Supporting leaders and line managers

COVID-19 health, safety and wellbeing

Line managers and leaders are central to creating supportive and healthy working environments for staff. 

As we continue through the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, it's vital that leaders and line managers have the tools to support their own wellbeing and the wellbeing of their teams.   

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) stated in its research that 'middle managers have really come out as the squeezed middle' and of all the different occupational groups, middle managers are the most stressed and overworked. The pressure to keep services running, meet targets and deadlines, as well as making sure their staff are supported at work, can become burdensome and increase risk of burn out.  

As Professor Michael West said: 'this is an opportunity to collectively improve the leadership culture across the NHS'.
Organisations have an opportunity to assess their staff wellbeing offer to see if it’s fit for purpose for the long term, and create and sustain a positive staff experience throughout the service in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Niall Dickson, former chief executive of the NHS Confederation, highlighted the importance that leaders and line managers play in creating and sustaining a positive staff experience: 'In many settings they have shown that we can look after our people differently: the challenge now is to sustain those changes. And while there is a role for national interventions, a lot of this is about cultural change - it is about what happens at work and it depends on the actions of employing organisations and their managers.'

This web section is to help you robustly develop and support your leaders and line managers, and provides tools and resources to help you support them and how they can support themselves.

Support your line managers through training

It's important to make sure line managers are trained in supportive behaviours and relevant policies. Making health and wellbeing a central part of the line manager's role is a way of supporting staff to feel valued and able to discuss any concerns before they reach a crisis point. You can find out more on our line manager training web page.

REACT mental health conversation training.  
NHS England and NHS Improvement is working in partnership with March on Stress, a psychological health consultancy that delivers training in managing stress and wellbeing during crisis situations, to provide free training to NHS staff.

The training is to equip NHS managers, supervisors, and those with caring responsibilities for NHS people, to confidently hold supportive and compassionate mental health and wellbeing conversations, during and beyond COVID-19.

The training is underpinned by the REACT technique comprising of: 
Actively listen
Check risk
Talk about specific actions.

The training sessions last up to 1 hour 15 minutes and are run remotely. You can find out more information and how to book your place on Our NHS People’s event’s page.

Tools to support confident conversations

Line managers need to be confident in their ability to hold sensitive conversations with their staff. Not only about mental health but also conversation about risk assessments, managing people with different needs, and providing more emotional support for example.  

Our making health and wellbeing vital in conversations guidance will help you support your managers to have health and wellbeing discussions in those important conversations with staff.

Our dedicated risk assessments for staff webpage contains guidance for NHS organisations on how to enhance their existing risk assessments particularly for at-risk and vulnerable groups within their workforce. It includes tools to help you support health and wellbeing conversations with your leaders and line managers.

Based on the work of healthcare organisations in the south east region, these two documents provide advice on holding health and wellbeing, and risk assessment discussions. Both documents are editable so trusts can add their logos and personalise the content so that it is relevant for supporting your leaders and line managers in the workplace:

Our supporting our most vulnerable people web section has guidance on supporting staff with underlying health conditions and those who are in higher-risk groups.


What are NHS trusts doing?

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Trust has created a useful pack for leaders to support their teams and themselves. The Leaders Pack - helping your team through COVID-19 collates the support available to the organisation into one resource and includes tips such as:

  • show self-compassion – it is OK and normal to feel worried or stressed
  • talk to your peers
  • try to get adequate rest outside of work. 
  • try to ensure you take your daily exercise – walk, run or cycle
  • make use of existing support such as occupational health, staff psychology and counselling, staff wellbeing team, organisational development and staff experience.

Black Country Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust has created a manager checklist.  This useful one pager includes four prompts:

1. Prepare
2. Provide
3. Notice
4. Encourage

The needs of your leaders and line managers are likely to change as we move through the different phases of the pandemic. It is important to understand and consider the needs of leaders and line managers during each phase individually. 

This Healthy teams - COVID-19 resource from University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust supports managers to foster psychological wellbeing in their teams, and to support themselves.

Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust has adapted its package of tailored support for managers to include:

  • 1-2-1 counselling
  • virtual coaching 
  • compassionate leadership workshop including psychological first aid
  • guidance on managing remote and virtual teams
  • training in mental health awareness
  • stress and resilience training
  • informal manager check-in space.

Individual support

To help you lead your team compassionately and inclusively, NHS England, and NHS Improvement has developed a suite of leadership support offers. This list of 10 evidenced-based behaviours for leading through COVID-19 are also relevant in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

There is a suite of free support available for NHS staff.


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