Employers need to place greater onus on competencies linked to empathy and compassion when recruiting line managers so they can manage staff more effectively, according to a new report from Business in the Community (BITC).
Published on 30 June, What if your job was good for you? calls for a culture shift in the way that line managers are recruited to support employee mental health and wellbeing as employers adapt to a changing world of work shaped significantly by the COVID-19 pandemic.
IOSH contributed to the research consortium projects that outline the crucial role that line managers play in supporting employee wellbeing and engagement and which inform the BITC report.
The pandemic’s impact on employee mental health and wellbeing has reinforced the need for managers to develop and strengthen soft skills to deal effectively with sensitive conversations around mental ill-health.
Drawing on BITC and Bupa’s 2020 mental health at work survey, the report found that 41% of employees had said that work in the past year had caused or worsened their mental health symptoms.
However, organisations are failing to invest in essential training which would equip line managers with the core skills required to encourage and support vulnerable employees.
The report found that despite the pandemic’s impact on employee mental health, less than half (43%) of managers had been given training on how to manage employees who are struggling with mental ill-health, a fall from 51% in 2020.
Only 38% of employees said they thought their managers had the confidence to have sensitive conversations and signpost to help if it was needed.
‘Managers occupy a unique role in being able not only to directly cause mental ill-health or enable good health by their behaviour and the way that they manage their work and delegation, but also spot early signs of ill-health in their team and therefore access help and support,’ the report notes.
‘As we transition to a new stage of our pandemic response and many people will be considering a move back to the workplace or developing new hybrid working strategies, we have a unique opportunity to reset the way we work'
However, the BITC and Bupa mental health survey revealed further damning findings. Only 17% of employees with mental health issues disclosed this sensitive information to their line manager or HR. Of those that did, 12% were treated negatively – for example they were sacked, forced out, demoted, passed over for promotion or subject to a disciplinary. Just under half (44%) saw nothing change after their disclosure.
Although the pandemic has increased awareness of the importance of reducing mental ill-health, research from Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) cited in the report shows that only a quarter of organisations have increased their budget for health and wellbeing and only half have an employee wellbeing strategy in place.
The report warns that rising levels of mental ill-health are likely to be long lasting, particularly among minority groups, women and young people, a trend that has been accelerated by COVID-19 and its restrictions.
On a positive note, the pandemic has shown that re-designing jobs is possible and can be achieved quickly. What’s more, hybrid working patterns, which were previously seen as being impossible for many roles, has become the standard mode of work for many employees.
‘As we transition out of the pandemic, there is an opportunity to embrace change and strive to create better jobs for everyone,’ the report notes.
‘Doing so will result not only in increased productivity, retention, resilience and wellbeing in our employees, but also across the organisation and in our wider society.’
Managers, the report, adds should be equipped with the skills not just to manage the health and wellbeing of their employees, but also to do this remotely and in a hybrid work environment. This would include training managers to pick up on social, emotional and behavioural cues in a virtual setting.
‘It is vital that managers are equipped with the skills, abilities and confidence to support others on this journey’
‘In a time when unprecedented numbers of employees will be returning to places of work, managers also need to be equipped with the resources to facilitate effective return to work conversations.’
The report outlines the ‘Better Work’ component of the BITC Workwell Model, which identifies three elements for promoting and protecting mental health – good work, job design and psychological and physical safety.
It also outlines the five enablers that need to be in place to ensure jobs are good for employees, which are:
- open dialogue and feedback
- collaborative individual-focused approach (as one size does not fit all)
- focus on relationships (particularly the manager)
- an appropriate physical environment
- measuring and monitoring.
Delivered with partners BITC’s Wellbeing Leadership Team and Affinity Health at Work and supported by the CIPD, the report contains two calls to action for employers.
The first is to achieve parity between the management of physical health and safety, and mental health and safety with an open and accountable culture.
The second is to enable employees to co-create their own ‘good jobs’ supported by managers and aligned with organisational practices.
Drawing on collaborations with industry leaders, institutions and national stakeholders, including the CIPD, Mental Health UK and Mind, the report has also been informed by BITC and Bupa’s 2020 mental health at work survey and a review of academic, practice and policy literature, which was undertaken by Affinity Health at Work.
The report also contains a number of best practice case studies for employers to draw on for inspiration and videos that cover issues such as how to safeguard employees experiencing domestic abuse, supporting colleagues affected by bereavement and everyday inclusion.
‘As we transition to a new stage of our pandemic response and many people will be considering a move back to the workplace or developing new hybrid working strategies, we have a unique opportunity to reset the way we work,’ said Jo Yarker, director at Affinity Health at Work.
‘It is vital that managers are equipped with the skills, abilities and confidence to support others on this journey.’