Wellbeing and the role of people managers

I recently attended a lecture by Professor Sir Cary Cooper from the University of Manchester Business School.  Professor Cooper is a leading expert in all things relating to health and wellbeing in the workplace.  He reflected upon the role of the manager in wellbeing – noting that when you look at sickness absence data the relationship an individual has with their manager is (according to the CIPD) the second highest cause of work related stress.  Professor Cooper said that most organisations should have a sign above the door reading ‘your manager may be dangerous to your health’.  And if you are wondering what is the first cause of work related stress, it’s workload (also influenced significantly by the line manager). 

The role of the manager when it comes to workplace wellbeing cannot be overstated. 

This role is two-fold.  First of all, managers need to understand how to support employees who are already experiencing ill-health.  This includes the need for effect return to work meetings, reasonable adjustments, occupational health engagement and providing general support.  It also includes the ability to spot signs and symptoms of wellbeing issues, stress or burnout, and deal with them accordingly. 

The other aspect to the role of the manager is enabling good health.  Good managers will be able to create a climate in which wellbeing is prioritised, a place where wellbeing conversations are not only possible but welcomed, and where employees have permission to engage with wider organisational wellbeing offerings.  They should also take responsibility for tackling habits that can cause wellbeing issues such as presenteeism, long hours working or late night emails. 

To achieve both, managers will need learning and development support in order to build both the necessary practical skills and behavioural competencies.

In particular, managers need to have: 

·         a broad awareness of wellbeing and what supports and enhances it

·         an awareness of the causes of work-related stress and specifically how the manager can have an impact on this

·         an awareness of the organisation’s approach to wellbeing, plus activities available to them and their teams

·         how to identify potential signs of ill-health and what to do about them

·         what good role modelling looks like

·         what is expected of them in respect of wellbeing

·         understand how to have effective wellbeing conversations.

There is real power in the manager who discusses wellbeing and takes active steps to engage and encourage their teams to take part.  This alone can provide implicit permission and start to shift culture.  Employee engagement will be enhanced by a manager who is seen to care genuinely about the health and wellbeing of their employees. 

If you need any help in developing your people managers to enable wellbeing, get in touch!

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