Mind is a leading international voice in workplace mental health. Included within the recent public guidance they’ve published with The Chartered Institute of Professional Development (CIPD), The People Managers Guide to Mental Health, are many of the effective practices the top UK mental health charity practices internally with its own staff.
I worked at Mind from 2014-2018 with the Workplace Wellbeing team. Here I learned first-hand what effective people management supporting team mental health looks like. When you learn how to approach it right, the impact for the people and the business is invaluable. So, whilst most of the time we’re benefiting from the support Mind provides employers & the public, there’s actually a lot we can learn from Mind’s own people practices–especially as 50% of the staff openly have lived experience of mental health problems.
At Mind, I worked alongside some incredible people leaders who went above and beyond to look after the wellbeing of their teams, one of which was Faye McGuinness. As Head of Workplace Wellbeing Programmes, Faye looks after some of Mind’s most influential programmes, like Mental Health at Work, which offers employers free guidance on how to follow and implement the Thriving at Work standards.
In writing this article, I embraced the excuse to to catch up with an admired former colleague, and friend. In our conversation Faye shared insights into Mind’s internal practices; tips the charity has for employers as they continue to support staff through the ongoing health pandemic and some of the secrets to her own effectiveness and success as a people manager.
What would you say are some of the most significant themes that line managers should be paying attention to now in the wake of COVID-19 and the way it’s impacted workers?
It’s important for line managers to think about the different groups that are affected and understand that the impact across these groups may differ. For example,
- CIPD research highlighted that employees who’ve continued to work during the pandemic have, on average, worked an additional 29 hours per month. So the impact we are seeing on this group is burnout, a reduction in work/life balance, the inability to switch off and system overload.
- As we continue to move through the ‘return to work’ phase, line managers need to be aware of the toll the past 6-months has taken on these employee mental health and recognise the impact this might have for many months to come. A great way to help with this recognition is to encourage employees to complete a personalised Wellness Action Plan, which should be discussed and reviewed on a regular basis.
- For employees who have been, or continue to be on furlough, we are seeing people report a lack of structure to their daily lives, a lack of purpose and motivation, worries about job security and financial concerns. For this group line managers really need to ensure communication is clear, that employees still feel connected to the organisation and that they looking at ways to keep employees motivated wherever possible.
Mind’s COVID19 mental health research revealed that existing inequalities in housing, employment, finances and other issues have had a greater impact on the mental health of people from different Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority (BAME) groups than white people during the coronavirus pandemic.
- In the midst of protests calling out systemic racism, employers need to address such deep-seated inequalities experienced by particular BAME groups in workplaces and line managers need to provide support that responds to this.
There are also the thousands of front line and key workers who have continued to put themselves at risk during the pandemic, who are also facing burn out and are at increased risk of trauma related mental health problems.
- More than ever line managers will need to ensure appropriate support is available, encourage peer support along with adequate de-briefing and encourage self-care – before, during and at the end of a every shift.
The 18/19 Workplace Wellbeing Index report findings were recently released. What outcomes would you say are most valuable for employers to learn from with the current challenges workers are facing?
- The important role of senior leaders in creating an open culture – We asked organisations whether they have a senior or high-profile employee with experience of mental health problems who has spoken out about their experiences in order to create a more open culture. Sixty-seven per cent of staff at organisations with an established senior champion felt their organisation encouraged openness and discussion about mental health. This is compared to 48 per cent in organisations who did not have a senior champion (19 per cent higher) Organisations who had a senior champion in place also had a greater proportion of staff that felt their organisation supports their mental health (10% higher than organisations who did not). Senior leaders therefore have an important role in creating a culture of openness and discussion around mental health. If those in senior positions do not lead by example then this often creates an impression that the organisation is not committed to making a real difference.
- The role of line managers – While checking in with employees and being generally supportive are key to achieve positive outcomes, managers can have an influence on their employees’ wellbeing in a variety of ways. Other examples of how managers can make a difference include understanding the problems their staff are facing and encouraging and role modelling positive wellbeing behaviours such as taking breaks and sick leave when needed. Each of these behaviours can be increased by raising awareness and knowledge of mental health in the workplace. We found that in organisations where mental health knowledge and awareness is rated highly by staff, managers are more likely to check in on how staff are feeling, understand their staff’s problems and encourage positive wellbeing behaviours such as working sensible hours.
- Workload and disclosing poor mental health – Employees with an unmanageable workload that is affecting their mental health should feel comfortable raising the issue with their manager, however only half of respondents in this situation felt comfortable doing so. In fact, just over half (52 per cent) of those experiencing poor mental health for any reason disclosed this to anyone at work. Given what we know about the increased risk of burn out as a result of COVID19, it’s essential that employee feel able to discuss openly with their line managers how workload might be having an impact on their mental health and wellbeing and look at ways to manage this. If they are not able to do this, line managers risk seeing a a rise in both preseentism and sickness absence.
Mind as an employer takes the mental health of staff very seriously, especially having 50% of staff members openly living with mental health problems. What are some key practices Mind has in place for line management support that other employers can learn from?
During COVID-19 the following four principles have unpinned how we have supported staff mental health and wellbeing at Mind:
Wellbeing – needs to be the priority, need to understand people’s individual circumstances
Clarity – priorities, policies, processes, focus on simplification
Community – regular updates, two-way dialogue, social connection
Reflective – take stock, ‘test and learn’, seek feedback
These principles will continue to underpin the support offered to staff, as we continue to move through the ‘return to work’ phase.
Some of the other practices that we have in place include,
- Encouraging all staff to develop a wellness action plan
- Having mental health and wellbeing on all 1:1 and team meetings agendas
- Providing mandatory mental health awareness training for all staff and training specifically for managers
- Offering 1:1 and group reflective practice session
- Carrying out mental heath audits
- Having team mental health champions and a whole host of employee benefits.
Like many organisations, we understand the need to tackle the key drivers of poor mental health in the workplace and these are the things that often take longer to change. This includes things like workload, work design, recruitment practices, changing cultures, creating better physical working environments etc.
So to understand how we can do better in these area we take part ourselves in the Workplace Wellbeing Index and run a regular staff survey, which feeds into an organisational action plan. We have a staff forum, where key issues are raised and tackled as it’s important for all staff to feel that their voices are heard.
Lastly, we make sure that the voices of those that have lived experience of mental health problems are embedded in everything we do. We would encourage all employers to do the same.
During the 3.5 years we worked together, I considered you a naturally caring leader who went above and beyond when it came to supporting the people whom you managed. What are some of the specific things you do as a manager which you feel make a difference to the experience of your team members’ mental wellbeing?
Thank you, that’s very kind of you to say. Some of the things I believe make a real difference are:
- Giving people time – Time is often one of the most valuable things we have, so your team members knowing you are willing to give them a good chunk of it can make all of the difference. However busy I am, I try my hardest not to compromise on this. I know that spending just half an hour tackling an issue together, can have a positive impact on my team members working day and their wellbeing.
- Start as you mean to go on – Whenever I start working with a new direct line report or team, I take the time to get to know them. I use our first meetings to explore who they are, what their likes/dislikes are, how they like to work and how they like to be managed. This does’t stop at the first meeting, it’s something I keep alive throughout our working relationship. I believe that providing a safe space for people to be their authentic selves is one of the most important things you can do as a line manager and I’ve seen first hand how this has made a difference to team members mental wellbeing.
- Invest, invest, invest – I invest time, energy and resources into helping my team members grow professionally. Often ‘development’ can be seen as an add on, a tick box or something that is looked at only in yearly appraisals but it can have such a positive impact on mental wellbeing if it’s supported and prioritised. I have felt firsthand the positive impact it had on me and I want my team members to feel the same.
What kinds of challenges has Mind faced as an employer in recent months to ensure staff wellbeing is supported whilst staff are working from home? What has worked in terms of solutions to these challenges?
At Mind, we have faced similar challenges to many other organisations. I have selected three of the key challenges:
- Employees feeling overwhelmed with the amount of information about COVID19 – to tackle this we have created a space on our intranet which has all of the information employees need in one place, our CEO Paul Farmer sends out one clear weekly update covering all of the most important points for that week, we have a structured monthly all staff briefing as well as department briefings and wherever possible we have encouraged line managers to be clear in their communication.
- Staff feeling isolated while working from home – we have set up peer support both 1:1 and in groups, recognising that not everybody is comfortable in group settings online. In addition to this we have offered staff reflective practice session with an external faciliator so that people have the opportunity to talk about any worries they have. We have also created social time for teams, which have become a core part of the working day so that everybody can get involved. We found that organising social time at the end of the day meant that some people were to tried to attend or had other commitments so were unable to attend, so making these part of working hours has been helpful.
- Line managers needing to feel equipped to support staff – we have created bespoke resources and tools for line manager, including running webinars, so that line managers feel equipped to support their staff during this time.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I’ll finish by sharing something a passionate mental health at work advocate said to me recently, which I believe encapsulates perfectly why now is the time for all employers to prioritise employee mental health and wellbeing:
“How employers support staff mental health in the wake of COVID19, will determine whether we stigmatise or de-stigmatise mental health for the many future generations of employees to come.”
Faye McGuinness is Head of Workplace Wellbeing Programmes at Mind. She joined in 2015 to lead on the development and implementation of a Cabinet funded programme to address the mental health of emergency services employees. Now, as Head of Workplace Wellbeing Programmes Faye leads on the development of largescale workplace wellbeing programmes including being responsible for the development and running of the Mental Health at Work website. Faye has recently led on the launch of Mind’s, Our Front Line campaign to support the mental health of front line and key workers during COVID19. Faye also leads on Mind’s response to the Stevenson-Farmer review of mental health and employers ‘Thriving at Work’, supporting employers to adopt the Mental Health at Work Commitment and coordinating the Thriving at Work Leadership Council.
How to effectively line manage mental health of staff will be a core topic discussed at our global digital events this October, including Make a Difference Summit US in Association with Mind Share Partners on 15 October, 2020 and Mad World Summit UK on 8 October, 2020.
About the author
Heather Kelly is the founder of Aura Wellbeing, a consultancy providing workplace wellness strategy, coaching and training services to employers. She’s also Content Director for Make a Difference Summit US and Online Editor for Make a Difference News. Heather led the development and operation of the Workplace Wellbeing Index, during her time working for the UK’s largest mental health charity, Mind. In her earlier career she worked as a photographer, a journalist and a senior manager in the insurance industry. She’s passionate about inspiring more empathy and awareness in workplaces toward normalising mental health and in her spare time Heather teaches photography to teens as part of a charity projects in London and Spain, she’s an avid runner and experimental chef for recipes promoting healthy minds.