Line managers are often among the first to know when someone has a health concern. The first you speak to when you call in sick, the first to notice a change in behaviour, and perhaps the first port of call for someone who is unwell or struggling.
They play a crucial role in ensuring employees stay healthy and feel well. Yet poor management can be blamed for many health and wellbeing concerns. Our research with the CIPD found that 37% of UK organisations have seen an increase in stress-related absence over the last year. Stress at work can be attributed to a number of factors, but two causes consistently hit the top spot.
The main cause of work-related stress for 62% of respondents was heavy workloads; ineffective management could be a driver for this. Additionally, over two-fifths (43%) of organisations identify management style as a main cause of stress, an increase of 11% on the previous year. And, just over one in ten (13%) organisations say a lack of employee support from line managers contributes too.
What appears to be lacking is support for line managers themselves. Many managers aren’t receiving the training they need to help them identify and manage unhealthy practices.
Training provides the basis for the most effective health and wellbeing strategies that have lasting positive impacts on the workplace. It’s imperative for businesses to train those on the frontline, and with this in mind, we’ve identified the five essential elements of a line manager’s wellbeing toolkit:
1. Spotting signs
This relates to all aspects of wellbeing, but perhaps resonates most with mental health. Our research with the CIPD shows just 18% of organisations say managers are confident, and competent, to spot the early warning signs of mental ill health.
Prevention and early intervention underpin effective wellbeing support, and especially so when it comes to mental health. For this to happen though, managers need to be able to identify that something is wrong. This means they can reach out to employees where appropriate, and help them get the support they need, when they need it.
2. Having difficult conversations
If a line manager spots health concerns, the tricky part might be broaching the subject with that person. Only 30% of organisations say that managers are confident to have sensitive discussions, so there are clear improvements to be made in this area.
When health is such a personal topic, training for line managers should always include guidance on how to handle these conversations. It can be made easier by starting to talk at the first signs of a problem, which is where being able to spot signs is important.
3. Effective signposting
Of course line managers can’t become health experts or counsellors. But it’s crucial that they know where to direct people to for further help. Despite this, less than a third of organisations say managers are confident in signposting staff to expert help.
This help can come in many forms; it could be an internal health champion or wellbeing manager, a GP service, health benefits like a health plan, or an employee assistance programme (EAP). Make sure that line managers are kept up-to-date with what tools are available in your organisation, and crucially, how they can be accessed.
4. Managing absence
In nearly two-thirds of organisations, line managers take primary responsibility for managing short-term absence, and two-fifths report this for long-term absence. Out of these organisations, a quarter don’t train line managers for managing absence.
It’s important for line managers to be aware of company policies for managing absence. And they should also be equipped with knowledge about how to promote attendance, and help people get back to work perhaps through making adjustments to the working environment, or work patterns.
5. Help for managers
Alongside company policies and practices that offer guidance for managers, EAPs commonly offer advice for managers, which can be a valuable resource. As well as providing information on using the service itself, support is available to help managers navigate challenges and deal with difficult situations within their team.
A final word
Undoubtedly, line managers play an important role in managing and promoting workplace wellbeing. But, it’s the responsibility of everyone in an organisation to help foster a supportive, healthy culture. And we should always encourage employees to take care of their own wellbeing. However, there is a clear need for businesses to invest in management training, and create a holistic wellbeing strategy that includes initiatives to help curb unhealthy practices in the workplace.
The CIPD/Simplyhealth Health and Well-being at Work 2019 report shares insights and best practices, including a wealth of information about the relationship between line managers and workplace wellbeing - download your free report now.
All figures are taken from the CIPD/Simplyhealth Health and Well-being at Work 2019 report.