The need for a new type of manager

According to the annual statistics of the Health and Safety Executive, 595,000 workers suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2017/18. 57% of all working days lost due to ill health were due to stress, depression or anxiety. That is a staggering 15.4 million working days lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2017/18. Something clearly needs to be done!

‘Thriving at Work’

In response to these findings, the government commissioned an independent report to make recommendations on how to tackle stress and mental health issues at work. The ‘Thriving at Work’ report sets out “mental health care standards” to help organisations improve mental health issues in the workplace and to create conditions for healthy and productive employees.  

To succeed in this, managers will need to play a key role. We can of course develop organisational mental health plans, monitor health and well-being and encourage conversations about mental health, but the effectiveness of all these measures depends on the culture that managers create in their teams or departments. And for this there are no quick fixes.

Mentally Healthy Organisations

It seems clear that we need to recognise that to form mentally healthy organisations we perhaps have to change our focus. The figures suggest that there is some urgency for employees to feel supported and valued, and for this we must acknowledge two key and mutually connected truths: to achieve healthy, thriving and productive employees and organisations, we need emotionally intelligent managers who can create a climate of trust.

This means that we also need to rethink how we train and develop leaders. We might have technically competent managers, but if their interpersonal skills are lacking then we may not only create further mental health issues in the workplace but a large part of the UK’s productivity puzzle will remain unsolved.

So future leadership training should not only include primary leadership skills such as how to create an engaging organisational vision and how to influence key stakeholders but also secondary leadership skills such as gaging engagement and stress levels of staff and support employees in creating healthy and productive work practices.

Dr Caroline Rook

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