Empowering Managers: Are Mental Health Training Programs the Key to a Healthier Workplace?

Key Points:

  1. When managers receive training in mental health support, they gain a better understanding of mental health, become more empathetic, and take practical steps to help employees facing mental health challenges.
  1. Managerial training enhances knowledge, fosters empathy, encourages self-reported changes in how they interact with their teams, and creates a more supportive and stigma-free workplace.
  1. To fully grasp the impact of manager training, it’s crucial to gather employee-level data and evaluate how these programs influence well-being, job satisfaction, and employees’ comfort in addressing mental health issues.

In today’s ever-evolving professional landscape, employee well-being has taken center stage, and managers play a pivotal role in nurturing mentally healthy workplaces. Researchers and organizational leaders have often wondered about the effects of providing training for managers to understand and support employees’ mental health needs. A recent study from Gayed and colleagues (2018) offered evidence-based insights and valuable guidance for organizations and leaders striving to enhance workplace well-being.

Boosting Knowledge, Attitudes, and Supportive Actions

When it comes to creating a mentally healthy workplace, knowledge is power. In a systematic review and meta-analysis, Gayed and colleagues found that empowering managers with mental health support training significantly boosted their understanding of mental health issues. Armed with this knowledge, managers become better at recognizing signs of mental health problems in their team members and are better equipped to encourage seeking help when needed.

It’s not just about knowledge; it’s about attitudes, too. Gayed and colleagues’ study revealed a notable shift in how trained managers perceived mental health. They were less likely to stigmatize mental health and adopt a more compassionate approach when employees faced challenges. This perspective shift promoted open conversations and reduced fear and bias.

The most remarkable outcome was the change in managers’ behavior. Those who received mental health training responded more proactively when employees addressed mental health issues. They actively supported their team members by offering accommodations, referring them to appropriate resources, and providing a listening ear. This behavior change underscored the impact and benefit of such training programs on the everyday workplace environment.

Knowledge, Attitude, and Behavior Transformations

The meta-analysis confirmed that manager training is a multifaceted process. It doesn’t just improve knowledge and attitudes; it can also lead to self-reported behavior changes. Managers who received training in mental health understanding and support reported actively engaging with team members about their mental health and taking concrete steps to support their people. This comprehensive transformation contributed to a more supportive and stigma-free workplace where employees felt encouraged to seek help.

The Importance of Employee-Level Data

While Gayed and colleagues’ study primarily focused on the impact of manager training on managers themselves, the goal was to improve employees’ mental health. They emphasized the need to gather data at the employee level to achieve this. Supportive data could include feedback, surveys, and performance indicators that provide insights into whether manager training effectively translates into better mental health outcomes for the entire workforce.

Gayed and colleagues’ findings emphasize the holistic nature of manager training in mental health support. It’s not just about changing managers’ knowledge, attitudes, or behaviors; it’s about creating a culture where employees’ mental well-being is prioritized, stigma is reduced, and employees can thrive personally and professionally. As organizations increasingly recognize the pivotal role of managers in achieving these goals, these insights can inspire the adoption of evidence-based practices that promote a more supportive and inclusive workplace.

Managerial Training: A New Paradigm

As organizations recognize the vital role of managers in supporting employee mental health, there’s a shift toward specialized, evidence-based interventions. These initiatives enhance managers’ awareness of mental health issues and equip them with the knowledge and skills to support their team members effectively. The positive outcomes of this training seem to endure over time.

Reducing Stigmatization

One particularly encouraging aspect of Gayed and colleagues’ study was the reduced stigmatization of employees with mental health challenges. This signified that manager training has the potential to create a more inclusive and supportive work environment where employees feel comfortable discussing their mental health concerns without fear of judgment.

The Challenge of Long-Term Effects

While Gayed and colleagues’ findings highlight the immediate positive impact of manager training, they acknowledged the need for more extensive trials with longer follow-up times to understand the long-term effects fully. Future longitudinal studies can help identify whether the benefits of training persist and even grow over time.

Workplace Context Matters

It’s essential to recognize that the unique context of each workplace may influence the benefits of manager training. Different organizations have varying needs and challenges, which can impact the effectiveness of training programs. Employers considering the implementation of manager training should carefully evaluate the compatibility of such programs with their specific organizational context.

Takeaways for You and Your Practice?

The implications of this research are far-reaching and hold value for different stakeholders within the organizational landscape.

For Employers and Leaders:

Take Part in Mental Wellness Training Opportunities: The study underscores the importance of investing in training programs that empower managers with mental health knowledge and support skills. This strategic approach can lead to a more supportive, inclusive, and compassionate work environment and it may result in a more productive organization with less turnover as a result.

Take a Broad Approach:  It’s great if such training reduces symptoms of mental illness in people, but even if they aren’t reduced by such programming, there’s value in promoting non-stigmatizing attitudes and providing better targeted support to followers. Doing so may make things easier for those in need, offering them the opportunity to seek professional help that is demonstrably shown to reduce symptoms of mental illness (like clinical psychologists, psychotherapists, and medical practitioners).

Collect Data and Take Part in Research Opportunities: The research in this space is new and rapidly advancing. Organizations should prioritize collecting employee-level data to gauge the long-term impact of manager training. This can provide insights into the efficacy of the training and guide future initiatives. If you’re curious, reach out to scientists in this area and look for opportunities to take part in scientific research where possible. It may offer you more evidence-based programming at a cheaper cost than other methods being offered in the private sphere.

Resource Allocation: Adequate resources should be allocated to support the implementation of training initiatives and employee mental health.

For Everyone:

Evidence-Based Training Advocacy: Employees can advocate for mental health training within their organizations. By raising awareness about the positive impact of such training, they contribute to a healthier workplace.

Making Use of Manager Support: Employees experiencing mental health challenges should feel empowered to seek support from their trained managers. Open communication can lead to timely intervention and assistance. Under circumstances where this isn’t the case, finding a supportive network in each primary domain of your life (work, school, friends, family, home, etc.) can be helpful.

Promoting Evidence-Based Interventions: Gayed and colleagues’ systematic review and meta-analysis offer valuable insights into the effectiveness of manager training when it comes to supporting employee mental health. These findings encourage organizations, evidence-based practitioners, and leaders to consider manager-specific mental health training a significant public health initiative. By addressing and developing managers’ knowledge, attitudes, and behavior, organizational leaders and managers can create mentally healthy workplaces, foster inclusivity, and contribute to a healthier and more productive workplace and workforce not only thrives but also uplifts the human spirit.

Focusing on improving your organization’s wellness? These other ScienceForWork Evidence-Based Summaries May help

What Can You Do to Encourage Discussions About Accommodating Employee Disabilities? by Jocelyn Brown

How Mindfulness Can Benefit Leaders, Their Followers, and Make for More Profitable Business by Aaron Halliday

Mental Health is your business: Workplace Interventions that do good, and those that do harm by Iulia Alina Cioca

Mental health is your business: The toxic job characteristics that risk our well-being by Katherine Evans

Trustworthiness score:

We critically evaluated the trustworthiness of the rapid evidence assessment we used to inform this Evidence Summary. We can conclude the meta-analysis we covered in this evidence-based summary is both rigorous and highly trustworthy (>80%).

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Gayed, A., Milligan-Saville, J. S., Nicholas, J., Bryan, B. T., LaMontagne, A. D., Milner, A., … Harvey, S. B. (2018). Effectiveness of training workplace managers to understand and support the mental health needs of employees: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 75(6), 462–470. doi:10.1136/oemed-2017-104789

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