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Chris Clarke


Chief Executive Officer

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Making the case for training line managers on mental health


The number of workplace absences has been declining consistently since 2003. However, the percentage of absences due to mental health is on the rise. There is much data and insight into the reasons for this trend, including many organisations’ lack of preparedness and understanding of how to address it. The issue isn’t going to go away unless businesses address it quickly and, in fact, things could get worse before they get better.

Firms facing an epidemic

We’ve all seen the predictions that mental health will become a workplace epidemic by 2020, if businesses fail to address the rising number of mental health absences and educate line managers.

But the epidemic might already be here: ONS statistics show that in 2016, a total of 15.8 million absence days were taken due to poor mental health.

The issue of mental health in the workplace could have a particularly big impact on small and medium-sized businesses. In bigger organisations, there tends to be enough resource to both address issues with employees and to provide cover for those who need to take time off for mental health reasons.

Smaller companies are more dependent on key individuals and it only takes one or two instances of poor mental health to cause distraction and stress for the business as a whole.

There also tends to be a lack of support or resource available in smaller firms to help line managers work through these issues and resolve them.

It’s easier to demonstrate the impact of employee absence due to mental health in a larger organisation. When there are more employees, there are more people absent due to mental ill health and this means you’ve got a more noticeable cost.

The incentive to do something about it will therefore be greater. But there are things that small and medium sized-businesses can do to ensure their employees are getting the right levels of training.

The need to keep up the momentum

With budget and time being such big constraints on businesses, employers often ask if they can train staff members about mental health online. However, this doesn’t fully equip line managers to be able to talk face to face with employees about their mental health issues.

Organisations can often also want mental health training to be a one off. But to make a real difference and to keep up to speed with the latest thinking on addressing mental health in the workplace, attending refresher courses on a regular basis is really important.

They help remind people of the importance of mental health and why it should be managed proactively.

The importance of real life examples

Training line managers on how to handle real-life situations within their business is key. And that training needs to be tailored to the individual business to help managers to practically address mental health in their own workplace, thinking about issues such as stigma, the mental health spectrum, stress and anxiety. 

Using examples that have happened within the firm, managers are able to think about how they might have identified and resolved the issue.

What’s crucial is that line managers can’t rely on other people to handle issues of poor mental health. They need to be able to spot the signs and act on them.

Training line managers to be mental health first aiders helps with this process so that staff feel equipped, not as clinicians, but as first responders for someone who is experiencing poor mental health so that help can be provided.

Case study: Where mental health training works

Recently, one of our clients told us that a long-serving employee was refusing to use new technology that had been introduced across the company.

There had been a comprehensive roll out of the technology and related procedures with full communication and training, so the line manager couldn’t understand the employee’s insistence on following the old process, using spreadsheets to record work rather than the new system.

During discussions, it became clear that the employee was suffering from stress. In response, the line manager explored the underlying issues by using a Stress Risk Assessment, part of the training that AdviserPlus offer. As well as issues around adapting to change, which the employee was experiencing, there were also domestic issues adding to his stress and anxiety levels.

Using this framework led to a number of regular follow-up meetings between the line manager and the employee. More clarity was provided on role expectations given the changes, and soon the employee was using the new systems without any problems. His domestic issues were resolved by a change of reporting location.

Because of the training on recognising the early warning signs of mental ill health and knowing how to handle the issue, the problem was resolved without either the line manager needing to go down a disciplinary route or the employee taking time off work with stress.

Author Profile Picture
Chris Clarke

Chief Executive Officer

Read more from Chris Clarke

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