Equip your managers | How to help line managers handle sensitive issues

How to help line managers handle sensitive issues

By Tracey Ward, Head of Business Development & Marketing at Generali UK Employee Benefits

The ‘always on’ culture was evident pre-pandemic and remote working has only served to accelerate the issue.

This, combined with the fact that wellbeing is now front and centre in organisations (a good thing, mind you!) has meant that it’s not unusual for people managers to be handling a multitude of sensitive employee issues, sometimes even leading to late night calls and texts, says Ryan Miele, a qualified counsellor who heads up the frontline counselling teams for LifeWorks in the UK and Ireland.

Equipping your managers in terms of work life balance, self-care and how to have sensitive conversations is paramount and that’s where a Manager Consultation Service – a little-known aspect of EAPs and sometimes provided at no extra cost with Group Income Protection – is really valuable.

Manager mental strain high

While everyone wants to do the right thing by their people, managers have needs too. And mental strain reported by people leaders has been a lot more intense of late, according to LifeWorks’ UK Mental Health Index; a survey that has been going out to a base of around 2,000 UK employees for a number of years, to allow for comparisons over time. The term ‘mental strain’ encompasses self-reported levels of various aspects, such as optimism, anxiety, isolation, work productivity, financial risk etc.

People managers of all descriptions – from Line Managers and HR to Occupational Health and Mental Health First Aiders – are having to juggle more now than ever before. In fact, the two biggest concerns are ‘supporting dispersed teams’ and ‘ensuring purpose and engagement’, according to a spot poll that Generali UK ran on social media just prior to a webinar on this topic that we hosted in partnership with LifeWorks.*

Help get the balance right

LifeWorks provides a Manager Consultation Service, as part of its EAP, via Generali UK’s Group Income Protection programme of wellbeing support.

However, we’ve found that HR can sometimes be cautious about promoting the Manager Consultation Service, for fear that it will attempt to replace or go against existing internal processes and procedures. It’s this concern that we addressed in the webinar. Because while HR process and practice expertly addresses ‘what’ needs to be done, the bit that is often missing is ‘how’ it should be done, and in a way that complements existing policy and practice, says Moira Marshall, Alliances Manager and Counselling Psychologist at LifeWorks.

To provide an idea of the types of employee work-related issues that managers require support with, the following data from across LifeWorks’ 2021 book of business in the UK shows:

  • Personal issues (of the employee): 33%

  • Fitness for duty: 18%

  • Workplace stress: 17%

  • Work relationships / conflict: 15%

  • Work performance: 10%

  • Traumatic event: 5%

  • Workplace violence / harassment: 3%

“The consultation service can support managers with the soft skills, such as having the conversation as a representative of the business, standing firm and not digressing from HR policy and practice, but at the same time doing it with empathy and compassion,” adds Moira.

“But, equally, it’s important that the manager doesn’t become the employee’s counsellor as they’re not skilled or equipped to be their complete social support system. It’s all about getting the balance right. We offer the support and guidance on how to have those sensitive conversations and provide the opportunity for a debrief afterwards so managers can ask things like: did I handle it right; I felt uncomfortable and out of my depth, what do I do next etc.”

A safe space to discuss challenges

The LifeWorks Manager Consultation Service uses trained counsellors, who can easily pivot from the support as outlined above to something more structured, if required, in the shape of short-term counselling for the manager themselves.

“Managers might be phoning for support with an employee issue and might not think they need help themselves. By helping them to also support themselves, we can help them regain work life balance and manage stress with someone who is completely impartial. Then they can go back to work restored and with a few good coping strategies,” says Ryan.

As outlined by Moira, the service focuses a lot on boundaries to help managers avoid situations that might become detrimental to them personally or professionally, so that they’re not being relied on emotionally.

“Over-involvement can actually inhibit the employee from getting appropriate support, whether through their GP, EAP or specialist organisations,” adds Ryan.

“We can also introduce the manager to support services they might not know about, including the LifeWorks employee referral service. This is useful where conversations are proving difficult or where there’s some kind of blocker. The manager could provide the EAP phone number for the employee to call the service themselves, or even offer to call the EAP on behalf of the employee and, with their agreement, request a call-back direct to the individual at an opportune time. In that way, the manager has a sense of doing something proactive and the employee has an easy route into the service.”

Employee referrals are two-fold: informal, where the employee needs help but is disinclined to reach out; or formal, where the matter is work-related, such as a disciplinary or performance improvement. In both cases, of course, this is voluntary on the part of the employee.

Find out more about Generali

*To obtain a free copy of the 30-min webinar recording ‘Help people managers handle sensitive issues early’ hosted by Generali UK, in partnership with LifeWorks, please email [email protected]

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Generali UK Employee Benefits

Generali UK provides Group Life Assurance, Group Income Protection - plus added-value wellbeing services - to the UK employees of multinational clients. Generali UK is also pioneering Wellbeing Investment Matching, helping clients fund discrete, tailored wellbeing initiatives where a need has been identified.

Access to a range of multinational pooling and captive solutions is available via: Generali Employee Benefits Network (GEB), and a range of non-life coverages is available via Generali Global Corporate & Commercial.