Why bosses must set a mental health example

Simply seeing their managers attend wellbeing training can stop staff calling in sick. Here's why

Why bosses must set a mental health example

Workers take a cue from their bosses, even if it is about something as personal as their mental well-being.

A study by the University of New South Wales shows employees reported 18% less sick days caused by mental health issues if their managers took steps to support them – like attending a four-hour training programme.

The study involved 128 managers overseeing close to 4,000 staff.

Managers’ attendance in the programme led to their being more supportive of their staff and more aware of their stress, the study found.

“Workplaces and managers should be part of the solution to poor mental health," said Dr. Samuel Harvey, lead author of the study.

“Having a supportive manager can make a huge difference to a person's mental wellbeing…it can bring significant changes to both confidence and behaviour among staff,” he said.

With management support, employees feel less pressure on their shoulders, allowing them to flourish in their role and avoid being gripped by depression. Less sick days also mean better performance and could even lead to pay rise.

In 2016, 137 million sick days were recorded in Britain, nearly 12% of which were due to mental health issues.

The bosses, however, feel insecure about their abilities.

The study revealed they fear they did not have skills needed to contact an employee who is off sick for mental health reasons.

They are worried any contact could cause harm or lead to complaints.

The four-hour training programme, called RESPECT, costs £625.55 (AUD$1017.13), per manager, the researchers calculated.

RESPECTS stands for:

  • Regular contact is essential
  • The Earlier the better
  • Supportive and empathetic communication
  • Practical help, not psychotherapy
  • Encourage help-seeking
  • Consider return to work options
  • Tell them the door is always open

Researchers said the results mostly applied to frontline emergency services staff, who face unique stressors in the course of their jobs. Further research is needed to determine the impact on other fields.

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