Effective Line Management of Mental Health, in Practice: An Honest Dialogue

One day I was scrolling through LinkedIn and I came across a post from Zoe Turner (Senior Account Manager at Magnet Harlequin in the UK) praising her manager, Ed Watts as an inspirational line manager. It took me aback. So I decided to get in touch and learn more.








The truth is that most often we hear people complaining about their line managers, not about taking time to personally–let alone publicly–recognise the positive impact they’ve had on our professional lives.

Research from DDI World’s Frontline Leader Project says that people leave managers, not companies.

  • 57 percent of employees have left a job because of their manager.
  • 14 percent have left multiple jobs because of their managers.
  • 32 percent have seriously considered leaving because of their manager.

Line managers who know how to support positive mental health of staff, especially with no training–like Ed Watts, are rare. And based on the stats above, it’s clear how valuable a good people manager is to a company. Poor people management results in lower job satisfaction and higher turnover rates for companies. This can be avoided.

Which is why when I had the chance to talk with Zoe Turner and her manager, Ed Watts, I tried to unpack for our readers specific examples which other managers can learn from to help better support teams.

Join our growing network of employers
Receive Make A Difference News straight to your inbox

The Team Member Perspective

What was it that recently compelled you to post on LinkedIn about your experience of working with your line manager, Ed Watts?

Zoe: Mainly to show gratitude for the great job that he does and the support that he offers me.

What specific examples can you share about why working with Ed has been a positive/supportive experience in terms of your workplace mental health and wellbeing? 

Zoe: Ed is open to sharing personal experiences and encourages me as an individual to look and reflect on how I am really feeling and how this can be seen within the team environment. Over time we have discussed how something or someone within a working day or week has made us feel, we look at how the situation was managed and how to manage it going forward if it should re-occur. We have also had designated sessions on mindfulness, staying in shape which has encourage open and honest conversations and has certainly made me have emotional check-ins with myself.

How has Ed supported yourself and team members to manage your wellbeing over the recent months of the COVID-19 health pandemic?

Zoe: He’s always there to listen, offer guidance, and support no matter how busy he is himself. He has actively encouraged us to share posts of interest on our internal communication tool, whether this been upcoming programmes on TV, photographs of the garden, food, everything, and anything to show we are all there for each other.

In comparison to other managers you’ve had, is there anything specifically different about Ed’s approach that has made a difference in terms of your job satisfaction, confidence in your performance and engagement with the organisation?

Zoe: Yes, I’d say the biggest difference is that he actually takes time every week to check in with you, which makes you feel valued as a member of his team. We talk about goals and objectives on a regular basis and he is always imparting updates about our organisation which helps you to see the bigger picture of what our goals are on a short term and long term basis.

What have you learned about being a manager yourself through working with Ed?

Zoe: That every team member has their own story, and with that, you need to take time to listen to them to understand them. When you do that you can adopt the correct approach to support them and their individual needs in a way that works for them.

The Manager Perspective

Can you tell me why it is that you’ve prioritised supporting the mental health and wellbeing of your team? Was it because of training you received, a company mandate or was it self-motivated?

Ed: I went through a bout of depression around 8 years ago now, it was the darkest and subsequently most enlightening experience of my life. I decided to have a series of counselling sessions, which quickly turned into mentoring sessions and it gave me the strength to make some positive changes in my life. I went from my lowest ebb to actually feeling mentally stronger and more content than ever. It then dawned on me that the techniques the counselling gave me could be helpful to others and I almost felt selfish that I had that knowledge and others, who I could see suffering with similar symptoms, didn’t have. It then became hugely important to me to ensure that everyone felt they had any support I could give, to the best of my ability.

What are some examples of approaches you take to managing your team that you think are most successful in terms of supporting their mental health, wellbeing and engagement?

Ed: First and foremost it’s trying to create a safe space. A space where no answers are expected when a question is asked, no judgements are given and nothing wrong can be said. I manage people and I also manage people who manage others and my first question in every 121 is always ‘How are you? How are you feeling? How are your team doing?’. Everyone is different and simply having a team meeting once a month will not suit those with quieter voices, so you have to work hard on different levels to allow everyone a voice or chance to speak, if they want to. I have some people in my team who don’t necessarily want to talk a lot about how they feel and that is more than OK but I still need to make the space for them to be able to talk should they ever want to and sometimes that’s all that’s needed.

What kinds of outcomes have you seen on your team as a result of your supportive management style? Would you say it’s had a positive impact on staff loyalty, engagement and productivity?

Ed: Without doubt it has an impact on all of those things. I feel incredibly lucky to work with the team that I do; both my immediate team and my company as a whole. To be seen and be heard are two of the most fundamental needs we have as human beings. If those two aspects aren’t nourished then your worth and value quickly diminish. If you feel valued and that what you’re doing is appreciated, you will always put in extra effort because you often mirror back any care that you’re given.

What are some top tips you’d give to another line manager who wants to be more supportive with their reportees around mental health and wellbeing?

Ed: Listen properly (which takes practice) and don’t rush to fix the issues that you’re told, which I can be guilty of and have to focus not to do. Talk about feelings more and share your own experience, if you feel comfortable to. Treat mental health the same as physical health: we all do better with exercise and when we’re poorly we need to rest. When you have a job where you’re mostly inactive and just using your mind, it’s even more important to stay mentally healthy.

How do you ensure to look after your own wellbeing whilst being responsible for the wellbeing of a large team?

Ed: I stay as present as humanly possible. I check in with myself to see how I’m physically and mentally feeling throughout the day, simply being aware of any potential negative feelings is powerful. Knowing that however you’re feeling is normal and natural and all feelings pass, good or bad. I remind myself to be kind to myself, it’s easy to let your subconscious mind run away with thoughts of not being good enough.


Manager & Team Member In Conversation








Do you think your positive working relationship benefits the business? If so, how?

Ed: When working in sync with someone else, you feel so much stronger. You can pick each other up and definitely deliver something bigger than the sum of your parts. Zoe and I have delivered some big projects together and we couldn’t have done without working as closely as we do.

Zoe: I believe it does, I think it encourages a better calmer working environment where you can bounce ideas off one another and grow as individuals. I also think it gives off a certain energy/vibe to other team members so that we can all work together as one and learn from each other.

Was there ever a really challenging situation that you were able to work through together in a way that minimised your stress and resulted in a positive outcome?

Ed: There’s a couple I can think of. One I didn’t get right but I apologised and acknowledged where I didn’t do the right thing and we both learned some lessons. We then in the following year went on to deliver one of the biggest projects for the company in terms of scale and volume, which we came out of relatively unscathed.

Zoe: There was one that springs to mind, but we got through it with a great end result. There can be many outside factors that influence an environment and not everybody gets it right all of the time so I think as long as you are able to talk over what is required you can put a plan in place to ensure stress level are managed and the wellbeing of individuals is maintained during the working day to achieve the results we do.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, are there any examples you can share of how you’ve been able to make successful changes to working together on a remote basis that fosters wellbeing?

Ed: Keeping regular video contact has helped, seeing how someone is can be a bigger indicator than just words. Wellbeing has evolved to be one of our weekly topics, whether that’s sharing how we’re feeling or interesting posts or blogs from others.

Zoe: The biggest change is the use of video conferencing for our catch up meetings. We also encourage taking time out for ourselves during the day, be that going for a walk during lunchtime, sitting outside for half an hour having a coffee break, sharing what we have seen or been influence by, or working slightly different hours during any given day.

If there were some tips you’d want to impart together to other managers/reportees about how best to work together in a way that supports both of your wellbeing, what would they be?

Ed: You can’t have a blueprint for a working relationship. You can create a space where you both feel safe but that doesn’t necessarily need to be filled with deep and meaningful chat every time you talk. But it has to be there for the times that it’s needed. Zoe and I can tell each other exactly how we’re feeling, even negative thoughts and we know the other will not judge.

Zoe: Have regular check-ins no matter if they are 10 minutes or an hour-long. Be open and honest (this takes time and trust). Set realistic goals and objectives to work towards and share how you are feeling so that you have the right support network around you at all times.

What it Boils Down to

Employers can equip their managers with training, or examples of best practice like this one of Zoe & Ed, so they have a better chance at getting it right. It’s not something that’s intuitive for everyone, but most leaders do want to manage well and promote good wellbeing for the teams. This can be embraced as a professional development or training objective. By making the investment, company’s expect healthier, more productive relationships between staff, less on-the-job stress and ultimately positive business results.

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 October 15th, 2020.

Zoe Turner is a Senior Account Manager at Magnet Harlequin part of Branded where her current role is to manage a team of Project Delivery Managers onsite within clients’ offices, working directly with colleagues and the client to produce their own label retail packaging.  She’s proud to have been working alongside this client for over 10 years producing packaging across their Food and GM accounts.

Ed Watts, Associate Director at Magnet Harlequin part of Branded. Branded is a group of branding, packaging, communication, technology and implementation agencies. He runs a team of around 18 Account Managers, Project Delivery Managers and Project Coordinators, spread across multiple sites, who help clients deliver their own label retail packaging.  He’s worked in this sector for over 14 years and am addicted to the pace and Adrenalin of working in retail.


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.


Sign up to receive Make A Difference's fortnightly round up of features, news, reports, case studies, practical tools and more for employers who want to make a difference to work culture, mental health and wellbeing.