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, QBE have always been keen to acknowledge that and make sure their people feel comfortable being open and honest about when they need extra support.

QBE already had a comprehensive programme of support in place, including a Validium Mental Health Support Programme (formerly 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 their employee-led Workability Network 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 Validium were asked to create a bespoke mental-health training workshop for managers.

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. QBE wanted to give managers the insights into mental health and a process to have compassionate and empathetic conversations with employees in need of support. At the same time, they wanted to help increase awareness of the breadth of support services in place.


Validium designed 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.

At the same time as teaching managers how to support others, we also taught managers how to look after their own mental health, by following the ‘six batteries’ that are essential for building personal energy and resilience.

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 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.

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”.

Caroline Fraser, HR Business Partner at QBE