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Managers should be trained on people skills to avoid harming employee mental health, CIPD says

The CIPD has called for managers to be trained on people skills following research which found poor managers have a negative effect on employee mental health. 

Its report, The importance of people management, used data from the CIPD's annual Good Work Index which asked employees to rate their managers on a range of people management behaviours. 

The results were then turned into a manager quality index to analyse whether employees' perception of line management behaviour was linked to job satisfaction, wellbeing and performance. 

Half (50%) of workers whose managers were rated in the bottom quartile said work has a negative impact on their mental health, compared to 14% of workers whose managers were in the top quartile. 

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Workers with the lowest rated managers also were more likely to experience excessive pressure at work (39%) often or always compared to 14% of those with the best managers. 

Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, said HR’s role is to ensure managers are equipped with the soft skills required to manage people. 

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “HR has a key role in ensuring that managers are given the necessary training and support if they are recruited or promoted into roles where they are managing people.” 

He said managers should be trained to spot the signs of mental health problems at work and provide support and flexibility if this is the case. 

“Managers with effective people management skills are also likely to build trust-based working relationships,” he added.  

“This will encourage people to disclose if they are under excessive pressure or dealing with anxiety, for example, so support can be given at the earliest possible stage.” 

Paula Leach, founder at leadership consultancy Vantage Points Consulting, said people are often promoted to managerial positions for their professional capabilities, not their people skills. 

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “Many managers find themselves leading other people with little or no understanding of human behaviour outside of their own experience.  

“HR needs to actively support and challenge managers and leaders to deepen their understanding and capability to lead humans well, focusing on human characteristics and behaviour.” 

Support must extend beyond mental health first aid training, she added. 

“This could involve building a deeper understanding of human behaviour, so managers can adjust and manage their own impact on others and learn how to develop a ‘range’ of human capabilities,” she said. 

Leach said HR can use data to identify issues with management. 

She said: “Using things like mental health absence data, and triangulating this with other data such as broader absence, retention of employees and grievances will highlight patterns. 

“Often the performance of a team is also lower when there are issues with culture and mental health.”