As highlighted in ‘Wellbeing at work requires openness and leadership’, culture plays a crucial role in businesses successfully enabling employees to stay well and providing a supportive environment for individuals with poor mental health. It plays out in management practices, which impacts both individuals’ mental health and the teams’ behaviours.
Managers’ actions matter
How managers treat employees with a mental health condition sends powerful messages to the rest of the team on how they themselves may be treated in the same situation. How managers manage additional workload and communicate with the team in those instances is also important. Finally, how pro-active they are about getting involved in mental health initiatives or championing their teams wellbeing; or how they approach their own wellbeing, will (unconsciously) affect the team’s attitude to mental health scenarios.
Significantly, managers impact their team’s wellbeing through their day-to-day management interaction and practices: demands in relation to workload and work patterns; support; levels of delegation; conflict and relationships management; clarity of expectations; and resources provided to do the job. Uncertainty, change and people finding themselves responsible for things that they feel ill equipped to handle is known to be significant contributors to stress. A supportive line manager who is good at communicating with their teams can make all the difference.
Show your support
Creating a supportive environment helps motivate and engage team members, which is good for productivity as well as mental health. This requires managers to:
- act as coaches and mentors to develop individuals and improve poor performance, rather than moving directly to punishing poor performance;
- encourage peer-to-peer support;
- create psychological safety and opportunities for all to contribute new ideas and explore new ways of doing things;
- have regular check-ins as part of an ongoing performance management and an open door policy;
- adopt a zero tolerance approach to stigma, prejudice and discrimination;
- address problems as soon as they arise and resolve conflicts fairly and objectively;
- be flexible;
- not encourage, or even create, an always on culture; and
- manage workloads more effectively.
Make talking the norm
Regular communication is an excellent way of getting feedback on your management practices as well as making 'how are you doing?' conversations the norm. This sends the signal that employees are safe to disclose any matters of concern, including any potential mental health issues. It also provides them with many opportunities to do so, should they find it difficult at first, as is often the case. Finally, it shifts the focus from mental ill health to general wellbeing, thus taking away the stigma and awkwardness that is often felt when talking about mental health.
Creating a mental health friendly culture means engaging with teams as well as individuals on the subject. It provides opportunities to share knowledge and identify skills gaps, so that all are better equipped to deal with issues and support colleagues in a positive non-judgmental way. Managers should therefore support team members to get involved in organisation wide initiatives. They could even consider nominating a wellbeing champion.
When somebody is absent because of mental ill health, it is beneficial to make the team part of the solution. For instance, discussing and agreeing with them how the team will manage any additional workload during that time, informing them of any adjustments or agreeing how the team can support the return to work plan. It is important to nurture supportive behaviours from the team but also to make sure that they themselves are supported and are provided with the opportunity to ask questions. Please note that personal information about the condition should not be discussed with the team without the individual’s expressed consent.
For further information on how your organisation can support your managers develop the skills needed to create a mental health friendly culture, please contact Caroline Bellanger Wood.