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13 May 2022
by Debbie Bullock

Looking out for the leaders: protecting managers’ mental health

Managers have a key role in looking after their teams’ mental health - but they also need mental health support too

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Leaders play a crucial role in identifying and addressing signs of worsening mental wellbeing in their teams. But who watches over the watchers? Debbie Bullock, Wellbeing Lead at Aviva UK, looks at raising awareness about the mental health and wellbeing needs of those leaders themselves – and giving them the support they need.

The culture of an organisation is key to maintaining the wellbeing of the people who work in it. This culture isn’t just about what’s said in value statements and the presence of good intentions: it’s the actions of others that employees can see for themselves every working day.

This is where leaders at all levels play a key role – and we should never forget just how closely linked that role is to the way they themselves are feeling. They need to be loud and proud about how they manage their own wellbeing and be authentic in sharing their own challenges and lived experiences.

Give managers the tools they need

The more they participate in wellbeing programmes and feel able to talk openly about their mental health, the more others within the organisation will do the same. But this means supplying them with the tools they need and engendering confidence that they will be supported, in the same way they themselves support those in their team.

Supporting line managers means supporting everybody

One of an organisation’s greatest assets is a committed and suitably supported line manager. These are the people best placed to identify risks to mental health and issues which can affect the wellbeing of their team members.

They’re the ones most likely to have regular close contact with the people who make the business tick on a day-to-day level.  And, with a responsibility for evaluating the performance of individuals, they’re already used to looking closely at the factors which affect colleagues’ ability to do their job well. And one of those factors, of course, is likely to be mental wellbeing.

A crucial role to play

The point here is that by investing in a line manager’s mental health we aren’t just supporting that individual. We’re helping to ensure they can carry on fulfilling their crucial role in preserving the wellbeing of the people who report to them, a little further down the chain.

Managers need the right training to equip them to help confront mental wellbeing issues in others. But it’s also important to make sure they have the time and resources to perform this important aspect of their job... or it could have a negative impact on their own wellbeing. We need to support their physical and mental wellbeing, for the sake of themselves and the people for whom they are responsible.

Nearly half of business leaders are concerned about their mental health

Aviva’s 2021 study, consulting 1,002 UK business managers, found nearly half (47.7%) of business leaders across a range of industries were worried about their own mental health – an increase of 10 percentage points since we previously asked about this in our 2019 Health of the Workplace study. And over 41% said they were too busy to recognise whether their team is under pressure. This is something businesses absolutely need to address if they’re to preserve their overall resilience. As well as looking closely at priorities in determining managers’ workload, it’s also important that they receive their own mental health support.

Where to get support for business leaders and managers

Business leaders and managers alike need to know where they can find support. It’s worth checking whether the organisation’s health and protection benefits include broad enough support to help protect employee wellbeing – including, of course, clinically sound training for line managers.

This training could help managers gain confidence in tackling issues such as changing behaviour in a team member, responding to crisis situations, holding difficult conversations, or helping employees to adapt to changes in the workplace.  And, of course, setting boundaries and looking after their own mental wellbeing.

Support like this can make a big difference to your organisation and the employees you depend on. Not so much watching the watchers, perhaps, but rather looking out for them… as they watch over the people whose wellbeing is so important to all of us.

In partnership with Aviva plc

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