The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) stated in its research that 'middle managers have really come out as the squeezed middle'. With increasing workforce pressures and demands on NHS staff, it's vital that managers are effectively supported in the workplace.
The best way to foster a supportive environment is to ensure that line managers understand their role in staff health and wellbeing, lead their teams compassionately, and provide the appropriate support to staff.
To do this effectively, managers require training and development focused on the practical elements of line management, but also softer skills which will enhance compassionate leadership and have an overall positive impact on staff experience in the workplace.
Three key tips to support your line managers
Give them tools, resources and guidance
- Pull together your existing health and wellbeing resources into one easy to use document. Ensure your tools equip line managers to have difficult health and wellbeing discussions about lifestyles, stress and relationships. Do your staff know who their HR contact is for additional support?
- Collate and share health and wellbeing data available to you such as sickness absence rates within your directorate/team so line managers can plan targeted interventions to support their staff. Run sickness absence training with a focus around timely conversations with staff. Our Everything you need to know about sickness absence toolkit is designed to help managers support staff with a confident and consistent approach to sickness absence.
- Have a strong supervision framework for managers to ensure they are checking on the wellbeing of their staff. This can be done at their appraisal or 1:1 meeting. For useful steps, tips and suggested talking points, take a look at our making health and wellbeing vital in conversations web page.
Train, develop and support your managers
- Identify who the ‘magic middle’ managers are in your organisation such as those is band six, seven and eight. Engage in a listening into action exercise with your managers to understand the challenges they face in their role. Doing this will help you effectively plan how you can support them. There may be things already available that your managers were unaware of which would be a quick win to supporting them.
- Empower and enable managers to prioritise wellbeing by incorporating health and wellbeing into leadership training as part of CPD and staff development. Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust runs a management essentials programme and a senior leadership training programme. The trust also provides training on handling difficult conversations and how both staff and their reports can manage and resolve problems.
- Develop comprehensive line manager training that includes supporting staff with their health and wellbeing.
Kettering General Hospital runs a 12-month managers' induction programme and an essential leadership course which gives managers time to embed their learning and enhances their skills around having difficult conversations and tips to build resilience.
- Do you have health and wellbeing champions/advocates in your organisation? If so, link your managers up with them to help spread health and wellbeing key messages. Could you also introduce a buddy system/forum for managers to provide mentoring and share experiences/good practice with each other?
- Create a managers' helpline for peer-to peer-support. Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust's accident and emergency department created a service for staff needing support to speak to another member of staff who understands their role. The service is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and there is an email address for people who don't want a conversation. The listening ear transfers to the trust's employee assistance programme (EAP) and/or line manager if they feel necessary.
- Provide essential training on how to access policies and procedures to support staff. Following the success of its tackling sickness absence policy Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust focused its efforts on a new misconduct policy continuing the 'know your staff' theme. The new process is more outcome focused and the manager is accountable for the decision making and has access to extra support should they need it.
- Provide mental health awareness training for all staff. Humber Teaching NHS Trust created 'avoiding burnout' training which is available to all staff. The course helps staff spot the signs of burnout, helps them make a personal plan and identify avenues of support which might come from within the organisation or the person’s wider life such as reconnecting with friends or finding time to for themselves.
Set the culture to enable them to manage well
- Use the NHS health and wellbeing framework diagnostic tool to pinpoint the areas your organisation needs to focus on. You can use this information when engaging with your board to show the importance of making health and wellbeing a priority and incorporating it into your corporate and strategic objectives.
- Give line managers permission to know that they are not expected to know everything or do everything when it comes to health and wellbeing. Make sure they are aware of the resources, pathways and infrastructures to support them.
- Train your managers to be experts in signposting their staff to the support they need.
- Don’t overload your line manager with health and wellbeing priorities - give them a short list of things they can do/should be aware of in order of priority (no more than three things).