Royal College of Nursing


When the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the UK’s largest professional union for nursing, discovered the extent to which employees’ mental health was being affected by issues outside of work, it decided to develop managers to help.

Deehan Cooper, HR business operations manager, explains, “With 850 staff working for the greater good of the nursing community, we firmly believe that the more we can support our employees, the better they can support our members.

A key part of their wellbeing strategy was the introduction of a Validium Mental Health Support Programme (formerly EAP), used by 30-40% of the workforce for support with any issue affecting them. This highlighted that half of those using the programe were struggling to cope with an issue outside of work, in particular relationship, legal and eldercare issues. RCN wanted to do more to help them before they became so stressed or anxious that it started to impact their ability to attend or perform at work.


If someone went off sick to deal with a personal issue it was often difficult for them to return until it had been resolved, which could take weeks or even months. “We wanted to encourage managers to notice when someone was struggling to cope with an issue outside of work, so they could support them as flexibly as possible to enable them to continue to work effectively and avoid the onset of sickness,” added Deehan.

Validium created a workshop: ‘When Home Comes into Work’ to assist managers to think creatively about how best to support their team members.

This brought back the human element, helping to make employees feel safe telling their manager what was actually going on, where they felt comfortable sharing this, so we could work with them to prevent a problem at home from becoming a problem at work.


“The ‘When Homes Comes to Work’ workshops were delivered to groups of 12 managers at a time, across ten different locations, to give them the opportunity to share their experiences of helping staff affected by issues outside of work and realise the benefits of supporting staff as early as possible, instead of waiting until a personal problem had a serious impact on their performance at work.

Managers were shown how to spot the signs that someone was struggling to deal with a personal challenge – such as reduced eye contact, increased forgetfulness or erratic work patterns – how to gently open up a conversation with the employee based on observations, the importance of confidentiality and how and when to involve HR or Validium.

In the event that the individual clearly needed to talk and get more emotional support, or specialist legal, financial or eldercare advice, the manager was shown how to proactively refer them to Validium, for free professional support.


“The highly effective way Validium equipped our managers with the ability to support staff facing personal challenges is helping us to better manage mental health related sickness.” says Deehan. “As a result of the managers putting the new empathy skills learned on the workshop into practice, an employee going through a relationship breakdown felt able to tell their manager that they needed to nip home to post an important document, when they might otherwise have been tempted to feign illness to get home,” says Deehan.

Another employee is now working very flexibly after their manager’s kind concern enabled them to talk about supporting a relative with a critical illness.

87% of managers said the workshop taught them how to take an empathetic approach. While 88% of employees who contacted Validium said the practical and emotional support provided had stopped them going off sick. Employees now feel more supported, which has had a positive impact on RCN.

“Employees now feel more supported than ever, which has had a positive impact on our business, enabling us to increase membership during a time of austerity.”

Deehan Cooper, HR Business Operations Manager at Royal College of Nursing