In today's fast-paced corporate environment, workplace mental health has emerged as a critical concern for organisations worldwide as the impact on productivity, engagement, and overall wellbeing has become undeniable.
As organisations recognise the significance of fostering a mentally healthy workplace, training managers to promote and support employee mental health has become essential.
After all, anxiety has risen to new levels post-pandemic, and with the abundance of uncertainty about the cost of living crisis, managers often find themselves struggling to support their team members while balancing their own mental health issues.
That’s why for Mental Health Awareness Week 2023 (the theme for this year was anxiety), we focused on empowering line managers and providing them with a mental health toolkit to help give them the confidence to navigate poor mental health.
Mental Health Guidance for Managers
1. Spot Early Warning Signs
What if we told you that on average, you spend more time with your colleagues than you do with your family? In fact, the average person will spend around 90,000 hours at work over a lifetime.
As a manager, you’re ideally placed to spot the early warning signs of someone who is struggling with anxiety, depression or other mental health conditions. By being proactive in recognising these signs, you can intervene early, offering support and connecting your team member with appropriate resources.
Early intervention can prevent the escalation of mental health problems and facilitate timely access to professional assistance, leading to improved outcomes for both your employee and the organisation as a whole.
Look for these signs happening consistently over a period of 2 weeks, also known as the ‘watching window’:
- Not getting things done - missing deadlines, forgetting tasks
- Erratic or unacceptable behaviour
- Irritability or aggression
- Complaining about the workload
- Being withdrawn - not participating in conversations or out-of-work activities
- Increased consumption of caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes and/or sedatives
- Inability to concentrate
- Difficulty remembering things
- Loss of confidence
- Unplanned absences
- Arguments/conflicts with others
- Increased errors/accidents
- Taking on too much work or working too many hours - staying late, emailing while on holiday
- Being adamant they are right
- Being louder or more exuberant than usual
- Constant tiredness
- Sickness absence
- Being run down and having frequent minor illnesses
- Difficulty sleeping
- Weight loss or gain
- Lack of care over their appearance
- Gastrointestinal disorders
While the above list may seem like a lot, there is a concept called HALT which is much easier to remember.
HALT, which stands for hungry, angry, lonely and tired, are what we refer to as ‘risk states’ that can really affect your mood and behaviour, and damage your performance and connections at work. It’s also important to remember to look out for these warning signs in your own life.
2. Understand Responsibilities and Boundaries
As a manager, your role isn’t about fixing everything and you’re neither a caretaker nor a rescuer. Even though you care about the wellbeing of a team member, you’re not their parent, their therapist or their best friend.
So before you jump into a conversation about mental health, take a moment to reflect. Why do you want to talk to your team member? What are you hoping to achieve?
If someone in your team is struggling with their mental health, it’s not your job to become their informal counsellor or protect them from all job or personal-related stress.
Instead, the focus needs to be on understanding if their struggles are affecting their work. If this is the case, you can offer to make reasonable temporary adjustments, encourage and appreciate their efforts and most importantly, ask them how they want to be supported.
Remember to know your limits and if the situation calls for it, don’t be afraid to reach out to HR for guidance.
3. What You Need To Know About Signposting
To follow on from the previous point, it’s crucial to recognise that as much as you might want to help them, you might not be the best person to do so. That’s why signposting is a central part of creating safe boundaries.
Signposting involves providing managers with clear information and resources to point team members towards appropriate support services and interventions to get the support they need. It is about being a supportive and responsible leader, while also understanding your limitations.
Depending on your organisation, this may include:
- An employee assistance programme (if you have one)
- Talking to HR
- Talking to their GP
- A mental health helpline
Remember to check in with your team member after you have referred them to show that you genuinely care and acknowledge their courage in reaching out to you.
4. Preparing For The Conversation
If you’re going to have a conversation with a team member about their mental health, it’s crucial to approach it in a sensitive and respectful manner. Remember that the person doesn’t have to share anything with you if they don’t want to. Instead, you can express your observations and concerns and offer to have a conversation if they’re open to it.
Make sure you are creating a safe space for someone to talk, keeping the three Cs in mind: Care, Curiosity and Consideration.
Here’s how to get the best out of the conversation:
- Don’t bring up the conversation during a performance review
- Avoid using written channels, particularly if it’s the first time you’re bringing it up
- Describe the behaviour changes you’ve noticed in a non-clinical way, using ‘human language’
- Ask twice - ask them how they are the first time, the second time be more specific - how are things at home? how are you coping with the current deadlines?
- Ask your team member what kind of help they want
- Use open-ended questions and statements - don’t just prompt a yes or no response
- Ask action-oriented questions
- Practice active listening and don’t be afraid of silence
- Generally, avoid giving advice - it can make a person feel like you’re making assumptions or trying to end the conversation
- Be present, give your full attention
- Let them know that it’s confidential and you’ll keep the conversation private (unless it’s an emergency situation that requires action)
When it comes to navigating the next steps, it’s best to work collaboratively and agree on the best way forward together.
If your team member needs to speak to someone else, book a check-in with them again in a week or two. It highlights that you’re not just passing them over, but that you actually care whether they’re making progress.
Ultimately, talking about mental health is an extremely vulnerable process, especially discussing it with a manager.
If someone does come to you for help, highlight their courage. A simple statement like ‘I really appreciate that you felt like you could talk to me’ goes a long way.
5. The Importance of Self-Care
It’s important to recognise you too can experience stress, anxiety and depression. It’s not uncommon for those in leadership positions to feel like they have to put on a brave face and always be strong for their team.
But, if we want to look after others, we’ve got to look after ourselves to not only make sure we’re okay, but to also role model behaviour.
By prioritising self-care, you set a positive example for your team members and send a powerful message that wellbeing is valued and essential for everyone in the organisation.
Here are some self-care basics to keep in mind:
- Good nutrition
- Sufficient sleep
- Talking to friends and family (or a mental health professional)
Our Mental Health for Managers Programme
Training managers on employee mental health is a critical investment for organisations committed to creating more wellbeing at work. By equipping managers with the necessary knowledge, skills, and resources, organisations can empower them to play a vital role in promoting a more mentally healthy workplace.
It also sends a powerful message that the organisation values its employees' holistic wellbeing. Ultimately, such an investment leads to a more resilient, engaged, and productive workforce, positively impacting both individual employees and the organisation as a whole.
This is where we come in. At PUSH, we run a Mental Health for Managers training course developed by our in-house psychotherapist.
The objective is to provide a mental health toolkit for managers to facilitate long-term change by connecting sessions with real-life actions and embedding positive mental health behaviours for managers and their teams to be able to perform at their best.
Join our Mental Wealth Movement and register your interest today.