Meeting the needs of organisations in the latest mental health crisis

A research report out today from the CMI has highlighted how Managers are facing a current health crisis.  Long hours and the demand for constant communication suggest organisations are overlooking the impact of this and creating a "pressure sandwich".  There are some sobering stats:

  • One in ten managers have taken time off for mental health issues in the past 12 months for an average of 12 days
  • They worked an average of 44 days over the year beyond contracted hours (that's a whole extra day per week)
  • 59% admitted checking emails outside working hours
  • A quarter cited Brexit as a cause of stress and uncertainty and that it is impacting on morale and wellbeing

Interestingly the report mentions "accidental managers" - employees who have been promoted to be a manager or team leader, but don't have the management experience or qualifications.  So they don't have the skills or knowledge to manage people and teams.  To me it's nothing new as most organisations I work with do this.  In the current environment, however, I would agree with this report - these people will struggle.  I always wonder what it must be like to leave your old team member job on Friday afternoon and on Monday morning you come in and start leading and managing that same team.  What happened on Saturday and Sunday to turn this person into a fully qualified, skilled, trained people and performance manager?

Back to the report for a moment.  It also suggests the following are impacting: pace of change of technology, not taking breaks, not being off line.  Recognise any of these?

Organisations that have good mental health policies, attend to wellbeing at work and use HR (where it exists) to deal with these issues are on the increase.  I think the report highlights that whether you are brilliant or not, there is more to be done.  Here are my recommendations:

  1. Train at least one person in Mental Health First Aid in every organisation.  The size of the workforce will determine how many is realistic.  I recently completed my Mental Health First Aid qualification with MHFA and was encouraged at the mix of organisations represented.  Predominantly it was VCSE sector.  WH Smith made a commitment to have as many MHFAs as physical first aiders and recently achieved this.
  2. Make sure you have an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) for all staff. Public sector organisations are great at this, but I'm not convinced everyone else has a good one or employees really know what it is and how to access it.  Mental health issues remains a stigma despite all the recent publicity and if Managers can't be approached, don't recognise it, or are not trusted, then access to independent support is crucial.  If you don't have an EAP, create it or buy it in.  A phone line is a start.
  3. Train all managers and leaders in wellbeing, stress management supported by good policy and practice.  Include wellbeing and mental health in performance plans.  For accidental managers - find them and support them.  Use induction, 1-2-1 support, mentoring and invest in full and appropriate management training.
  4. Senior staff and leaders need to role model so over time, being online 24/7 is not the norm.  They set and lead the culture, and healthy workplaces are not those where the mental health crisis is maintained by long hours, instant communication driven leadership. Leaders hold managers to account for making sure this happens as well.  Start with some simple, all embracing rules such as not checking emails constantly (turn off the auto rule and check emails at set times), and no out of hours emailing.  This latter one might be the only way Managers think they have time to send their emails, but there are consequences for their mental health and also for the expectations that can be set with the receivers, especially if they are customers.

Mental health is being promoted right now as a government priority via an increase in resources and support for mental health for employers.  In the meantime, some practical commitments to these four points is worth cracking on with.  

I can help in three ways:

  1. Talks - I can come and give a talk on wellbeing topics, speak about how I got my mental health first aid qualification, help groups or networks of employers think about some of ideas and practical plans.  For VCSE networks and umbrella bodies this is free of charge.
  2. Training - I provide tailored in house workshops on resilience and beating stress.  See the programmes page for details.  If you can't find what you're looking for, contact me.
  3. Consultancy - I provide support, facilitation and advice on making work better inside the organisation.  This could be policy, practice, systems, procedures, assessing support needed, learning needs analysis for managers and staff, inter alia.