‘We need to equip line managers with new skills’

Carol Frost Chief People Officer Metro Bank

This article is based on an interview with Metro Bank’s Chief People Officer, Carol Frost, ahead of her speaker session at The Watercooler Event in April. It covers employee wellbeing in general, but line manager wellbeing in particular, including the fact managers need new skills in the new hybrid workplace. She also talks about the biggest challenge she’s facing: how to get employees to actually access wellness services…


Line manager wellbeing is one of the most talked about topics in the wellbeing industry currently, given the mounting pressure on team leaders.

That’s why The Watercooler’s panel discussion on ‘Supporting Line Managers to Support Their Teams and Manage their Own Mental Health’ is one of the most hotly anticipated.

Carol Frost, Chief People Officer, Metro Bank, is speaking on this panel and has an interesting perspective, given her varied career background which spans the water industry, oil and gas and, now, financial services. She’s learnt, she says, that “people issues are people issues; the context may be different but the issues are universal”.

You’ve spent the majority of your career working in large organisations in the UK and internationally. What do you think are the big challenges with a people-based global role today?

You can’t know everybody as intimately as you might like to, so you’re constantly having to figure out and understand what the problems, and top topics, are. You do this by talking to people and extrapolating, to make sure you have your finger on the pulse. This is always a challenge.

What’s particularly challenging about it?

People somehow worry about HR being involved. There’s still this association in their mind that if HR is involved it’s going to be in some way ‘bad’, and related to performance or discipline. Whereas, actually, we’re involved in a lot of really good stuff too, whether it’s recruitment, or culture or engagement. Probably due to human nature and the way our brains work, but people tend to remember the bad before the good.

My impression is that Metro Bank is a friendly brand outwardly in terms of financial services. I guess one of your HR challenges, too, is to carry that through to friendliness on the inside?

Yes, definitely.

One of our core beliefs is that if we treat our colleagues very well, then our colleagues will treat our customers very positively, too. This works, because we are famous for our high levels of customer service and our culture.

Click on the video above to hear Carol talk in more depth about why managers need new skills…

How have you approached this systematically?

Our culture is characterised by what we call our ‘amazing behaviours’. What that means is you get colleagues who really focus on what they can do, where they can make a difference, not worrying about what they can’t do. This means you don’t get the cynicism which I’ve seen in some other businesses. The culture is very celebratory, too, partly due to having such a very quick rise to fame.

 How do you plan on keeping the momentum of that celebratory culture?

We definitely plan to keep that moving forward. We celebrate big things, and we celebrate smaller things. Again, that positivity is very contagious.

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We’ve written recently about how many women are struggling at work from a mental health perspective at the moment, and women are burning out and leaving the work force at unprecedented rates. You are a women in a senior role in a traditionally male dominated sector – do you relate to the struggle?

I can only talk about my experience and I’m not seeing that. I’m familiar with being the only woman in the room – actually, much less so in banking than in oil and gas – but I’ve seen that less and less throughout my career.

Equally, that may be because at Metro we are very focused on enabling people to manage their work alongside their life, and being empathetic. We want to find ways to help people who are struggling, in whatever way that may be. For example, we’re actually seeing an increasing number of men struggling with caring responsibilities for their parents.

At The Watercooler you’re talking about supporting line managers to support their teams and manage their own mental health. What do you think is the biggest issue on this front?

For me, it’s the shift to hybrid working. How we can support line managers to do their jobs and also support their team when, often, they can’t see them?

One of the most pertinent questions I’m asking myself right now is: how can I best enable managers by giving them the right toolkit?

Then another big issue is the fact that line managers are having to have conversations about wellbeing that they’ve never had previously, whether it’s around the menopause or struggling with mental health or domestic violence. We’re encouraging employees to talk to their line managers, but line managers are actually feeling quite exposed and concerned about giving the right response.

How are you dealing with the fact they feel exposed?

What we’re saying to them is that these aren’t problems that you can solve, nor should you solve. What line managers need to do is to signpost their team members to expert help. We’re trying to help line managers from the shift from solving problems and telling people what they need to do, and being there to listen and to support.

What have you done regarding line manager training to support them?

We’ve always focused on training but what we’ve done is dial up training around colleague engagement, to equip them with skills that we probably we’re providing previously. Things like listening skills; how do you really listen to people? And how do you respond? How can you avoid being judgmental? Then we have interventions in place like private healthcare, the Headspace app, an EAP, active inclusion networks, etc.

Is there anything you’ve noticed in this new way of operating wellbeing-wise?

Yes. Even though colleagues have access to all this specialist support, they aren’t necessarily accessing it as much as we thought they might do. So we are really challenging ourselves to get under the skin of this and ask: what causes people not to access the services? And, actually, I think there is still a bit of a stigma.

This goes back to our whole attitude at Metro of positivity and asking ‘are we missing something here?’ I haven’t got the answer… yet. But, as you’ve probably gathered from this conversation, we are a very transparent company and it’s important we talk about the difficult stuff because otherwise the conversation stops and there’s a temptation to say ‘job done’, when it’s not.

To meet Carol in person, and contribute to the conversation come along to our sister event the Watercooler on April 25th and 26th, 2023

The Watercooler, named in recognition of those crucial moments of connection between employees, is a free to attend conference and exhibition which demonstrates that wellbeing IS the future of work. For themes that were ‘hot topics’ at last year’s event, like line manager wellbeing, see this article.

Taking place at Excel London, The Watercooler event is where you can gather to join ideas together, make connections, learn from peers’ experiences and find the right solutions for your organisation – whatever its size and shape. 

For reasons why this is a must-attend event for anyone interested in workplace wellbeing, see this article here.

Now read:

Should team psychological safety be a mandatory KPI for managers?

Cultivating psychological safety: 16 quick tips for line managers

Do your line managers know how to cultivate psychological safety?

Why line managers do not need to be psychologists





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