At this year’s CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition, we were delighted to be able to join the CIPD’s Senior Policy Adviser, Rachel Suff for her session on creating healthy workplaces. One of the main areas of focus was the role business leaders and line managers play in developing a healthy workplace culture. Simplyhealth Director, Pam Whelan, presented an interesting debate – read on for the key points.
Leaders’ influence on wellbeing
Leaders at all levels in an organisation can have significant influence on employee wellbeing. Yet poor management can be blamed for many health and wellbeing concerns; heavy workloads and management style are leading causes of work-related stress. Training for leaders proves to be a strong base for the most effective health and wellbeing strategies that have lasting positive impacts on the workplace.
Our research shows that just half of organisations say managers have been trained to manage stress. And only half have managers who are bought into the importance of wellbeing. Both of these findings have seen a small uplift since the previous survey. But, does it actually just leave half of managers who are not trained, and don’t see the value in looking after employee wellbeing?
To bring greater meaning to these findings, let’s take a look at our own company’s example. At Simplyhealth, we have around 1,100 employees. 81% of our employee population have people management responsibility. When we apply the report findings about managers to our own numbers, could this mean we have circa 950 people who are being impacted by poorly engaged and untrained managers?
To assess this risk, we take a monthly temperature check, asking employees some specific questions about their experience of line managers; how supported they feel in completing their work, whether they feel their manager cares about them as a person, and if their manager communicates openly and honestly.
Our group score for managers is 8.1; 0.6 % above the industry average. This shows that our managers are caring, treat employees with compassion, have strong relationships with employees, and foster open and honest dialogue.
Impact on mental health
One of the key areas of wellbeing where line managers can make a big difference is mental health. The CIPD/Simplyhealth report shows that just 40% have trained managers to support mental health. Moreover, only 30% say managers are confident to have sensitive conversations and signpost staff to expert help, and just 18% say managers are confident and competent to spot the early warning signs of mental ill health.
One of the ways we can measure effectiveness of our own line managers in supporting mental health, is through analysing data from our EAP provider. In the 12 months to August 2019, nearly half of the calls made to the EAP service were over mental health concerns.
An initiative we have in place at Simplyhealth to improve the confidence and competence of our line managers, is mental health first aid training. Back in May 2018, line managers from across the business attended Mental Health First Aid Training. In the year leading up to the training, we saw 204 calls made to the counselling service, and in the 12 months following, this number more than doubled to 430; a 111% increase in calls.
What we can interpret from these findings is that our training initiatives for line managers are working! Even though we’ve seen a huge increase in calls, it’s possible that we can attribute this to better line manager competency in having those tricky conversations and signposting employees to further help. Alongside this, increased awareness of mental health through internal campaigns with our marketing and HR teams will have also played a part in the increase.
The senior leaders’ role
Senior leaders play just as an important part in workplace wellbeing as line managers do. Their role centres on driving a positive work culture. It’s most important to focus on the right leadership behaviours and engaging leaders in a health and wellbeing strategy.
If wellbeing is not talked about at board level, any type of initiative or support that the organisation puts forward will fall flat. Our research reveals that employee wellbeing is on senior leaders’ agendas in 61% of organisations. It’s critical for leaders to be involved in building wellbeing initiatives to ensure that they can become embedded into an organisation’s culture.
One way to do this is to link a wellbeing strategy with overall organisation objectives. When leaders put a focus on wellbeing, they tend to have better relationships with their staff that in turn drives up job satisfaction, improves productivity, and reduces absence and turnover. Highlighting these connections helps employee wellbeing stay firmly on the board’s agenda and ensures continued leadership investment.
The leadership team can also be highly influential through their own behaviours. Interestingly, nearly two-fifths of organisations say that senior leaders role model by not working when they are ill. It’s essential that leaders are demonstrating the healthy behaviours they are advocating such as taking on manageable workloads, working flexibly and only sending emails during work hours; helping to create that positive working environment and culture that every workplace deserves.
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