People managers: the new front line

As restrictions on where we work have been lifted across the country during the summer, there’s been a flurry of media attention recently on the ‘return to offices’.

There is now a lot of discussion about the advantages of flexible working, a lot of stories about which businesses are embracing the recent changes in working patterns, and even more speculation about what it all means for our cities, jobs and children in the long run. But, for those of us who were used to working in offices, what will hybrid working look like in real life?

Flexible working sounds appealing to many of us, and its numerous benefits have been supported by the likes of the CIPD, with their ‘flex from first’ campaign. Just last week the UK government confirmed proposals that will give all employees the right to request flexible working from the first day when they start new jobs. However, the return to offices may not be as easy as just going back into the office for 2 or 3 days a week and could result in more complex family schedules, further childcare juggling and the potential for companies to make more demands on staff whilst not technically ‘at work’.

Today, more than ever, our work-life has the potential to add stress to what has already been an anxious and challenging year and a half for most. Pre-pandemic, it was relatively easy to spot if a co-worker was anxious, stressed or unable to cope, but what happens if we don’t see those people every day? And who do they turn to when or if they start struggling? The answer more often than not is their line manager.

People managers tend to be the first port of call when issues arise. They hire, appraise, allocate workloads, and are also asked to play a critical role in supporting their team’s wellbeing and mental health. In fact, how people are managed on a daily basis is often central to their mental health in the first place. We’ve all heard the phrase “employees join a company but leave their manager”, and this theory was supported by a Gallup poll from 2017. The survey discovered that over half of the 1 million US workers polled cited their manager as the reason they left their job.

If the crux of a hybrid or remote working business rests on the shoulders of its middle management – those who are required to manage and support staff they can’t see, whilst also managing up to key stakeholders who may not fully understand day-to-day issues – then providing those managers with the proper tools for the job is essential.

In a recent article from the Chartered Management Institute, the organisation found:

“An overwhelming 84% of managers questioned said the overall culture of their organisation had improved or remained the same throughout the pandemic. However, two-thirds of managers also commented that homeworking has had a negative impact on mental health and wellbeing – both their own and that of their direct reports – and more than half (55%) expect increased remote working will exacerbate existing inequalities in the workplace.”

Faced with these challenges, any business that cares about the wellbeing of their staff needs to train their managers to lead in new ways and spot the signs if their teams need support.

According to the CIPD, five of the eight biggest causes of stress can be directly affected by a line manager, but if middle management hasn’t yet been trained to know what to look for, or how to offer support, it may be harder to spot the signs or know what to do if you see any.

Here are five things managers can do regularly to support their staff and promote wellbeing in a hybrid workplace:

  1. Check-in regularly, weekly if possible.
  2. Be on the lookout for signs of stress like exhaustion, loss of humour, resigned attitudes, etc.
  3. Raise concerns as soon as you have any, either with the employee themselves or HR if applicable.
  4. Review workloads regularly and promote wellbeing opportunities when available.
  5. Get training on how to have open conversations, promote wellbeing and talk constructively about stress and pressure.

And of course, Mindapples provide bespoke management training programmes that offer practical advice and applications on how to do this, from supporting your team to managing remote working.

Let’s make sure we support our managers during this transition to hybrid working – because they are the people supporting everyone else.