How has the role of the line manager changed in supporting employee wellbeing?

Need to know:

  • Line managers have had to change their mindset during the pandemic and become more proactive in managing wellbeing while employees are working from home.
  • There has been a significant shift towards personalised, proactive wellbeing plans, daily and weekly health check-ins and Mental Health First Aid training, as well as training on work-life balance.
  • The Covid-19 pandemic has also triggered a surge in the number of Mental Health First Aiders, employees trained to spot mental health issues within their organisation.

Nine in 10 employers introduced mental wellbeing benefits during the Covid-19 pandemic, a study by Littler, published in September 2020 showed. The 750 European employers surveyed in the European Employer Covid-19 2020 report also found that nearly a quarter (24%) were offering additional training to managers.

With the huge changes to working environments, line managers have a crucial role to play in supporting employees during the pandemic. Phil Sproston, country manager, UK and Ireland at the Top Employers Institute, says: “With many employees working mainly from home, line managers have found themselves in a situation where they receive no data input on employee’ wellbeing, unless they take proactive steps. So many have had to adopt a new mindset.”

Remote working challenges

The shift to remote working for many organisations has increased the demand for a wider variety of wellbeing measures beyond the more traditional ones, such as bikes-for-work schemes and gym memberships to help employees cope with the changing challenges. Line managers have had to adapt their approach in order to provide employees with wellbeing support that is needed and valued.

Eugene Farrell, mental health lead at Axa Health, says: “There’s been a shift towards personalised, proactive wellbeing plans, daily and weekly health check-ins and mental health first aid training, as well as training around sleep and the importance of work-life balance. Additional mental health support in the form of apps which provide insight and support tools have also played their part.”

However, wellbeing should not just be something that falls to managers, says Andy Romero-Birkbeck, founder of We Are Wellbeing consultancy. “Wellbeing is everyone’s responsibility,” he says. “This is why we encourage organisations to invest in the training of wellbeing champions. Champions are there to support managers and help bridge the gap when workload and status get in the way of good conversations.”

As with any responsibility, line managers need the appropriate training and resources to be able to safely support employee wellbeing. They should be encouraged and rewarded for making it a priority, says Charlie Cousins, director at Hooray Health and Protection: “Organisations need to ensure that they are providing appropriate resources for managers to upskill and refresh their wellbeing skills. This culture starts at the top with senior leadership. They need to act as role models.”

Manager training

However, while some managers may have an understanding of mental health, they may be reluctant to address it, through fear of saying the wrong thing or making matters worse, says Dr Serra Pitts, clinical director of 87%, a wellbeing app. “A good training programme, from the likes of MHFA England, Acas or Business in the Community (BITC), which has partnered with Public Health England to produce a digital toolkit, should include practical ways to get teams talking about mental health and help lift the stigma in the workplace,” Pitts says.

One thing is for certain, as the pandemic looks set to continue over the coming months, it is more important than ever for employers to look after their employees. “Should times get tougher still, and redundancies and business failures occur, organisations have to safeguard the wellbeing of their key assets, and ensure that both those employees staying and those departing endure the least amount of stress and disruption possible,” says Sproston.