6 ways people managers can support their staff’s mental health.

Mental health is the main cause of absence in the UK. Line managers play a crucial role – check out the 6 ways they can support mental health in the workplace.

Petru Tinca • 
6 ways people managers can support their staff's mental health.

There’s no way to sugar-coat this: mental health issues are now the main cause of absence in the UK, with work-related stress, depression, and anxiety accounting for half of all work-related issues. Psychological burnout has become an epidemic and a critical people management issue also, being one of the main reasons people have been leaving jobs in recent times.

Research tells us that one of the biggest impacts on an employee’s well-being at work is the relationship with their direct line manager. That’s why it seems a good time to offer some people management guidance to line managers on how they can support their staff’s mental health.

1. Leaders must be seen to take their breaks and annual leave entitlement…

Line managers should be seen by staff to be taking their allotted breaks and annual leave entitlement and working sensible hours.

If staff can see a healthy working vs overworking culture amongst the ranks of people management, they will be more likely to adopt a healthy working pattern too, which will support their mental health.

2. Make out-of-hours emails the exception and not the norm.

A study from Lehigh, Virginia Tech, and Colorado State universities which looked into the effects of email as a job stressor and found that email hinders employees’ ability to recuperate from work. Many employees feel an expectation from people management and peers to be ‘always on’ which means they should regularly respond to emails out of hours, and this is proving harmful to their mental health.

While some countries have put an outright ban on after-hours work email comms, there is not a consensus approach yet and some quarters argue that an outright ban would be too restrictive.

So, the healthy compromise is to have a people management policy published in your HR Software platform making out-of-hours emails the exception and not the norm.

3. Normalise mental health discussions.

Dr. E Sarah L Porter, an Occupational physician guest blogging during this year’s occupational health awareness week,

 argues the importance of normalising the subject of mental health. She suggests nurturing a people management culture that encourages line managers to touch base with employees regularly to see how they are feeling and how they are managing work and life.

4. Agree rather than impose performance goals on staff as far as possible.

Recent people management data from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)’s HR software revealed that workload pressures, including tight deadlines, too much responsibility, and a lack of managerial support was the main cause of reported stress, depression, and anxiety.

Of course, like life itself, work can at times be challenging; it’s a normal part of the job. But if being overstressed becomes the daily norm, the employee will burn out.  

As much as possible, line managers should try to agree on challenging but realistic performance goals and expectations rather than just imposing them outright.

This isn’t always straightforward as the workload pressures that the line manager is placing on the employees are usually coming from the line manager’s own boss or clients. This means alleviating the workload of staff, and may also involve upward discussions with people management which could include renegotiating longer deadlines or requesting more budget for staff.

5. Include well-being as a weekly meeting agenda item.

Put well-being as a fixed item on the weekly meeting agenda and with managers taking the lead on describing their own state and the contributory factors. This will help to normalise mental health conversations and enable staff to be more conscious of their own and their teammate’s mental health.

6. Conduct an anonymous well-being and happiness survey.

Not all employees are comfortable speaking up in meetings about their mental health, and some may be too proud or anxious to mention it in a one-to-one people management scenario. As a result, some employees’ voices may not be heard. Some employees are more comfortable communicating their feelings via anonymous surveys, so offer this option too. This is a good way to get honesty and identify pain points and systemic issues that may be undermining mental health across the team.

Better still, you can even use advanced HR software features such as pulse surveys – short, automated surveys that can be sent to an employee’s phone. These allow people managers to measure team and individual sentiment on an ongoing basis, and is one of the best ways for line managers to monitor the mental well-being of their team.

As we mentioned at the beginning, line managers have the biggest influence over the workplace well-being of their staff members, which is a massive responsibility, given how pivotal mental health is to productivity.  Mental well-being is a key performance differentiator of the corporate modern age and people management professionals are well-placed to train line managers in this area.