Why you should train management to respond to mental health concerns

How all-encompassing is your mental health strategy?

Why you should train management to respond to mental health concerns

How all-encompassing is your mental health strategy? While many businesses may pride themselves on having an inclusive health and safety initiative, sometimes the real-life specifics may be lost in complicated processes.

It’s good to have a defined approach to dealing with mental health concerns on paper – but putting that into practice is something completely different.

In their fourth article of the series, the Workplace Safety & Prevention Services’ (WSPS) talked to HRD Canada about the importance of training your managers on how to respond to mental health concerns.

The sensitive subject may well be one that makes even the most seasoned of HRDs nervous – after all, mishandling employee psychological concerns can have some serious ramifications. So, how much of a responsibility to employers really have in staff mental health?

According to the Occupational Health and Safety Act in Ontario (OHSA), it’s the employer’s responsibility to take “every reasonable precaution” to ensure the health and safety of all their employees. While health and safety legislation doesn’t specifically identify psychological health and safety, it should be considered best practice for employers to address mental harm in the same way as physical harm.

As a starting point, employers should ensure that their employees aren’t being psychologically harmed at work. This can be done by promoting civility and respect in the workplace and not imposing an unrealistic workload. Furthermore, employers should consider providing wellness programs (EFAP), fostering a ‘help-seeking’ culture, and identifying stress triggers.

However, while it’s important to do the best you can to help your employees – employers aren’t expected to accommodate past the point of undue hardship. Some degree of hardship can be expected, undue hardship is a very high threshold for employers to have to demonstrate before accommodation is not acceptable. This will differ between large and small organizations depending on their resources and constraints.

Furthermore, it’s essential that managers are also remembered as employees – and not used solely as a buffer between the C-Suite and the frontline.

Speaking to Workplace Mental Health Consultant, Danielle Stewart, she added: “While the manager is also an employee, their responsibility is to manage other employees. It is also their role and responsibility to support the employer’s efforts to accomplish their duties under the OHSA. Don’t forget about the mental health of your managers! Managers have many roles and responsibilities - their jobs are not easy. We can’t forget that mental health is everyone’s responsibility, we all have a role to play.”

All this time spent on perfecting the legalese of a mental health strategy and employers may begin to wonder about the ROI. A recent report from Gayed (2018) threw up some specifics around the benefits of training your managers well. According to the research, training managers to understand and support the mental health of staff actually improved their managers’ knowledge, attitudes and self-reported behaviours.

“Improving management skills around how we organize our work and manage our people can prevent mental distress and harm,” added Stewart. “Management training can also support workers who are struggling to stay at work through various accommodations. Ultimately simple training can help to mitigate the cost of disability and claims costs and lead to higher productivity and efficiencies.”

When it comes to the practicalities of training your management team, there are a few simple steps you can implement in your workplaces today.

Firstly, remind your managers to focus on the facts of a case – not hearsay or office gossip. Approach the employee you have concerns about and speak to them face-to-face. When doing so, remember to remain non-judgmental and appear willing to help. Importantly, recognize that an employee’s choice of treatment for mental health concerns is outside of your control. Your focus needs to stay on managing workplace stressors, clarifying expectations and helping the employee be successful at their job.

It is essential that you remain as open and helpful as possible when dealing with mental health concerns – no one expects you to be a therapist. Unless you’re trained as such, you are not to give specific diagnoses or medical advice. It’s not the manager’s role to fix issues that reside outside of the workplace. Rather you need to listen and be supportive. Recognize that it is not healthy for one manager to be the sole support for an individual – after all that’s a lot of pressure for one person.

Remember – training your managers to deal with mental health concerns isn’t just the ethical thing to do – it’s the only way to ensure your employees feel supported at work.

“By not improving management skills workplaces put the company, managers and workers at risk,” added Stewart. “Effective managers understand not only the technical requirements of the job, but what it means to lead and coach people.

“Workplaces which do not prioritize workplace mental health training are not providing managers with the tools they require to effectively do their job.”

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