In order to shift the culture around mental health and if we want to improve workplace wellbeing, invest in managers. Good people managers are crucial.
Earlier this year I was coaching several individuals within a London engineering firm ranging from Graduates to Directors. All of them were navigating challenges with chronic stress and potential ‘burnout’ from work.
Each person painted a unique picture of their circumstances and pressure points. Still I began to notice a common factor:
Regardless of seniority or job function, each person’s quality of relationship with their line manager was key to their sense of wellbeing at work.
Individuals who felt that their manager genuinely cared about them were more motivated to find productive ways of coping, get the support they needed, and stay in the role instead of leaving.
Conversely, people who talked about having a manager who ‘doesn’t care’ or ‘just talks about targets’ or ‘barely knows me’ were more keen to talk about switching teams or quitting the organisation entirely.
The wider narrative of Workplace Wellbeing
Their stories are part of a wider narrative about managers’ roles in creating healthier workplaces.
The 2017 Thriving at Work: the Stevenson/Farmer review on mental health and employers in the UK underscores the importance of good people management as a protective factor for employee mental health.
The report goes so far as to include manager engagement and training as one of the Mental Health Core Standards:
Mental Health Core Standard #5: Promote effective people management to ensure all employees have a regular conversation about their health and well-being with their line manager, supervisor or organisational leader and train and support line managers and supervisors in effective management practices.
The same report emphasises the current training gap for managers in the area of mental health and wellbeing, finding that:
employers want to do the right thing but line managers lack the training, skills or confidence required to effectively support others at a very basic level.
Why are managers so important to creating a culture of wellbeing at work?
Consider a manager’s position within the organisational ecosystem. Managers sit at the intersection between their direct team members, peers and upper levels of leadership. They are a highly-connected, high-leverage place to focus any effort for culture change.
With training and ongoing development support, managers have the opportunity to be positive role models, coaches and connectors within their team and company.
- Role models: Managers can lead by example with their work behaviours and habits and be aware of their impact on team members’ work habits. One size does not fit all — what is ‘healthy’ for the manager may not work for other people. The important thing is that the manager is signalling permission for their team to treat health as a priority.
- Coaches: Managers can cultivate coaching skills to support their team’s wellbeing, This includes checking in with team members about how they are, asking open questions, listening and observing, trusting individuals to share what feels appropriate, and taking requests for help seriously. Coaching is perhaps one of the most powerful ways that managers can shape a team culture in which people feel able to reach out when they are overwhelmed and co-create solutions.
- Connectors: Managers are generally well positioned to notice changes in a team member’s performance and behaviour at work. With training, managers can connect with the individual, understand potential need areas and signpost to support resources. Those resources may be job-related (e.g. providing training, feedback, or enrolling additional people for help) or health-related (e.g. Employee Assistance Programmes).
Managers are responsible for delivering so much value within organisations. They deserve to be invested in. Doing so can equip them to be more aware and skilled with sustaining their own wellbeing at work and to better serve their team.
Curious to learn more?