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Article | Managing Risk

The role of the line manager – stress management

Psychological health and safety

By Rebecca Forster | October 3, 2022

This insight provides takeaways on how line managers can promote positive wellbeing and protect employee psychological health and safety at work.
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‘Speak to HR’ is a common response to any kind of question involving psychological health and safety at work, particularly where organisations do not have a whole-organisation approach to wellbeing. Directing people to HR might also be the standard reply where line managers are not empowered with the appropriate skills, training or knowledge around how to support wellbeing. Similarly, we might find any queries regarding physical health and safety being ‘forwarded’ to the health and safety team.

While HR may well have overarching responsibility for wellbeing strategy, it is line managers who are best placed to take the proactive and preventative action needed to protect their individual colleagues from work-related hazards to their psychological health.

To create an organisational culture in which colleagues can thrive and organisations can meet their legal obligations under the Health & Safety at Work Act 19741, the role of the line manager must include promoting positive wellbeing and protecting psychological health and safety at work.

The key competencies required for line managers in helping organisations meet their duty of care to manage risk include:

  • Understanding the causes of work-related stress and how they contribute to poor mental health
  • Recognising the signs and symptoms of stress/poor mental health at work
  • Managing the causes of workplace stress
  • Being able to discuss stress and mental health pro-actively and empathetically
  • Leading by example, such as encouraging lunch breaks and discouraging out of hours working
  • Sharing knowledge of the organisational support available
  • Understanding when the risk of a workplace stress claim arises and how to mitigate that risk.

38% of managers are confident in having sensitive discussions and signposting people to expert sources of help when needed.

Research suggests getting this right means you may need to upskill managers. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) 2022 Health Wellbeing at Work report2 found only 38% of HR respondents agree that managers are confident in having sensitive discussions and signposting people to expert sources of help when needed. Even fewer (29%) agree managers are sufficiently confident and competent to spot the early warning signs of mental ill health. This isn’t surprising given that just over two-fifths (44%) of organisations are training managers to support staff with mental ill health.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) Guidelines for Mental Wellbeing at Work3 recommend:

  • Offering systematic support for managers including training, and regular refresher training, in line management and communication skills, such as the ability to listen, communicate clearly, understand and empathise
  • Equipping managers, including those managing people remotely, with the knowledge, tools, skills and resources to:
    • Improve awareness of mental wellbeing at work
    • Recognise when people are at risk of harm and know the signs of work-related stress
    • Promote mental wellbeing and prevent poor mental wellbeing
    • Improve employees' understanding of and engagement in organisational decisions
    • Improve communication between managers and employees.

ISO450034, the world’s first global guidelines for managing psychological health and safety at work, state organisations should:

  • Develop the competence necessary to identify and manage hazards to psychological health
  • Take actions, including training and professional development as appropriate, to support workers in acquiring and maintaining the necessary competence.

The business case for investing in measures to tackle mental health issues is made clear in Deloitte’s 2022 Mental Health Report5, which states, “the estimated return for employers is on average £5.30 for every £1 invested”.

Organisations must also take care to ensure the psychological health and safety of line managers themselves is protected. Any training provision should empower managers to maintain their own wellbeing in addition to supporting their teams. Managers need sufficient time and resource to have conversations with their teams, backed by top management support.

How can WTW help?

WTW supports businesses in creating psychologically healthy and safe workplaces via a range of consultancy and training solutions. For further information please get in touch.








Stress and Mental Health Risk Specialist
Health and Wellbeing

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