Once an issue kept behind closed doors, mental health is now being discussed openly in the workplace. Caroline Fraser, HR Business Partner for business insurer QBE, discusses how they’ve been training managers to respond.
Mental health issues are prevalent, affecting one in four people at any one time. As an inclusive employer with 1,950 staff working across 16 countries, we have always been keen to acknowledge that and make sure our people feel comfortable being open and honest about when they need extra support.
We already had a comprehensive programme of support in place, including a Validium Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), mindfulness workshops, a free app, story-sharing intranet page and talks from mental health campaigners to address stress and anxiety. But when research from our employee-led Workability Network showed that managers often struggle to talk to employees about mental health issues, we wanted to do even more.
The research showed that while managers were very comfortable talking to someone about a physical injury, such as leg or back-pain, they didn’t know how to open up conversations about mental health in the same way. Some were also unsure of their role in helping to manage mental health, so we invited Validium, the psychological health consultancy that was already providing our EAP, to create a bespoke mental-health training workshop for managers.
“We wanted to give managers the insights they needed.”
The aim of the half-day workshop was to help managers understand the continuum, from positive mental health to mental illness, and educate them on common mental health disorders. For instance, people hear terms like bipolar, anxiety and depression but don’t necessarily know what they really mean, or how widespread these problems are. We wanted to give managers the insights they needed to become more confident talking about mental health and to give them a process for having compassionate and empathetic conversations with employees in need of support.
At the same time, we wanted the training to help increase awareness of the breadth of support services in place. For example, the fact that the EAP wasn’t just a counselling hotline but also a useful resource for employees affected by money worries, legal disputes and childcare or eldercare issues, all of which might lead to mental health problems if left unaddressed.
We decided to partner with Validium because of their outstanding mental health expertise and the effort they had already invested into really getting to know our organisation.
Managing mental health
One of the most powerful elements of the Managing Mental Health workshop designed for us by Validium was a five-step approach for supporting team members affected by a mental health issue. The first step, making sure managers knew their role in managing mental health, was particularly important as some managers were reluctant to help someone with a mental health issue for fear of becoming personally involved.
While other managers soon realised they had already crossed over that line, with some even taking calls from distressed employees at 2am in the morning.
Validium helped managers understand that their role was to listen with compassion, so that they could help the employee to ‘self-solve’, direct them towards appropriate support and check in with them to make sure they were making progress. This ensured managers knew how to help without actually attempting to advise or counsel the employee themselves.
Six batteries for building resilience
At the same time as teaching managers how to support others, Validium also taught them how to look after their own mental health. Managers were made aware of the following ‘six batteries’ that are essential for building personal energy and resilience:
Social – are you enjoying quality face-to-face social interaction with others?
Emotional – Do you do things that give you a sense of achievement or joy?
Physical – Are you nurturing your body by exercising, eating well and getting enough rest?
Mental – Do you forgive yourself for your mistakes and view them as learning opportunities?
Mindful – Can you set aside time and worries to mindfully enjoy the moment?
Meaning – Are you aware of your personal values and doing activities aligned to these?
Following a successful pilot, the workshop was condensed into a two-hour session and rolled out to the entire HR team and managers in London, Chelmsford and Stafford. It was also turned into an interactive webinar for employees who worked in Europe or outside of the office.
“Managers said the mental health training was a good use of their time.”
Our executive team supported the initiative from the outset, with a senior stakeholder attending each of the training sessions to introduce the topic and share their own powerful experiences of supporting people with mental health issues. Managers were also made aware of all the mental health support services in place, including Validium’s manager helpline and access to HR professionals who could coach them how best to support particular individuals.
The Managing Mental Health workshop delivered by Validium was incredibly well received. Over three-quarters of managers chose to attend and 97% of those managers said the mental health training was a good use of their time.
The way Validium equipped managers with skills they could put into practice the second they got back to their desk, instead of just giving lots of theory, was outstanding. 83% said they felt they now had an excellent understanding of how to manage mental health and 97% said they were comfortable about applying their learning back in the workplace.
Although it’s too early to assess the impact on the business, managers now feel confident and informed around mental health issues, recognising difficulties, listening compassionately, signposting to the right support and managing absence and return. We’re confident it’s enhanced our reputation as an open and inclusive employer who wants everyone to thrive.