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Mental Health Awareness Week: Supporting those who support others.

The mental wellbeing of our people couldn’t be a higher priority, and Mental Health Awareness Week is an ideal time to take a moment to check we’re doing all we can to support those who need it. We have various resources, support groups, employee led networks and our Wellbeing Champions in place to provide information, specialised support, and a safe space for people to share their stories. But although the support is available for those who are experiencing concerns with their mental health, our Colleague Experience team recognised a further tier of care that we could implement; a programme to make sure our line managers are equipped with the skills and knowledge they need to recognise if anyone in their team might be struggling, and how they can help.

Mhairi Anthony works on our Colleague Experience and Proposition team and took the lead on the Line Managers Mental Health Awareness module. We caught up with Mhairi to learn a bit more about the programme.

Hi Mhairi, thanks for taking the time to talk to us today! Let’s start with you; can you tell me a bit about your role and how you came to be involved in the programme?

Sure. I’m a Colleague Experience and Proposition Consultant and work within a team focussed on wellbeing, inclusion and colleague experience. The line manager module comes out of the wellbeing side of things. We’re proud to support both the Time to Change Pledge and the Mental Health at Work Commitment, which the programme is aligned to. It’s something we’d been working on but brought forward in light of the current situation regarding Covid-19, and were keen to roll out during Mental Health Awareness Week.

Can you tell me a bit about the module itself?

It's an online learning programme for line managers that outlines the importance of wellbeing and helping to build a healthy, diverse and inclusive workplace. It helps managers to understand that their mental health and that of their people is so important. It also helps them recognise signs of poor mental health, and gives them tips on how to approach different mental health scenarios.

It goes through the four pillars of wellbeing: mental, physical, financial and social, and how these all affect each other. It also teaches managers about how to create a space in which people are comfortable to really talk.

How important do you think it is for managers to have this training?

Massively! People who lead teams have a key role to play in supporting the mental health of both our colleagues and themselves, particularly at the moment. We're all either working remotely and potentially feeling quite isolated, or are still working in branches, and understandably feeling concerned or vulnerable. Everyone has mental health just like everyone has physical health. This means that managers need to look after their own mental health too. It’s like the oxygen analogy on a plane: make sure you sort your own oxygen mask before helping anyone else.

It’s imperative we help managers to help colleagues to talk. Mental health is one of these things we can't see, and it’s not always obvious when someone's mental health is not as good as it could be. People may not want to talk about it and need some support to open up and ask for help.

What advice would you give somebody who supports others in the workplace, and what signs should they look out for that indicate something might be wrong?

It's important to create an open and honest working environment that works for everyone on the team. You need to be approachable and get to know the person and their characteristics, so you know if they’re acting out of character. If someone started to behave differently, looked tearful, or stopped getting involved in certain activities and seemed less upbeat, there could be cause for concern. If you are concerned, try and open the conversation with the individual with open questions and make sure you don’t sound accusatory. So perhaps, ‘I’ve noticed that you've not been yourself, is there anything you’d like to talk about?’ rather than commenting on their performance and demanding an explanation. We also need to make it clear that it’s ok that people have times when they’re not feeling their best, and that they don’t always have to put on a brave face.

What if, even after the training, a line manger still felt slightly out of their depth when dealing with an issue?

We have a lot of other resources available such as our Policy & Advice team, Employee Assistance Programme and Wellbeing Hub among many others, and the module points out where they can go both inside and outside the bank if they need further support.

We don’t expect every manager to be a mental health expert. It’s about signposting all the different options available, walking them through the next steps, and helping anyway they can with external support. This might be putting them in touch with a charity, explaining the support that the Employee Assistance Programme can provide, or giving them the time off to see their GP.

This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week’s theme is kindness. How do you think this is reflected in the initiatives we’re rolling out across the bank?

We’re very passionate about doing the right thing and treating our colleagues kindly and fairly, but I think the programme also prompts managers to be kind to themselves and think about their own mental health. We need to remind people that they need to take care of themselves in order to take care of others, which I think is a really important message.

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