Training Supervisors to Improve Health and Wellbeing of Employees

By: Jedha Dening, IndustrySearch writer
27 July, 2016

Mental and stress related disorders such as depression, anxiety and burnout account for a large percentage of all work-related health problems.

According to a 2008 report by Medibank Private, it's costing the Australian economy more than $14.81 billion dollars each year, with 3.2 days lost per worker, per year due to workplace stress. In 2016, this number has likely increased quite substantially.

Employee Health and Wellbeing

Areas that are contributing increased demands on employees are:

  • Increased work pace
  • More highly skilled jobs
  • Increased use of technology

Increased stress can result in:

  • Mental health issues like anxiety and depression
  • Negative health-related behaviour such as smoking, drinking and drug use
  • Physical aches, pains and problems
  • Sleep disturbances
  • And increased risk of heart disease

The level of stress experienced by an individual is based on a person's ability to cope. Those who cope well may have higher performance and quality of life with added stress. Whereas those who don't may experience any number of the adverse health problems listed above.

Therefore, it's in the best interest of organisations to invest in training of supervisors and HR managers to help improve the overall health and wellbeing of employees.

A recent review protocol, published in the Cochrane Library, looked at various interventions.

Types of Training

Because organisations have their own individual requirements, there is no one size fits all model, which can make it difficult to know how to go about training. Below are some areas to consider.

Off the job training could include formal and informal training:

  • Self-help activities (informal) - textbook, video or web based
  • Face-to-face lectures, case analysis and discussion, simulations, role play (formal)

On-the-job training:

  • Application of knowledge to real life situations
  • Executive coaching and mentoring
  • Job rotations
  • Action learning

Training Objectives

Training that focuses on supervisor-employee interaction:

  • Communication activities - relationship skills, active listening, providing clear instructions, sharing of organisational or personal goals.
  • Recognition and reward - showing appreciation and respect to employees.
  • Leadership style - thanks to businesspeople and psychologists, there are a range of leadership styles that can be learned and applied to fit the right situation.

The goal of training supervisors is to instil health and wellbeing knowledge, attitudes, skills and behaviours. The supervisors are then equipped to deal with employee work stressors more effectively, provide employees with appropriate work-related or personal resources, and as a result, mental stress and absenteeism is reduced and wellbeing and health are improved.

The Importance of Company Culture

One pertinent point made in the review protocol is that company culture is critical because many of the issues arise from the overall social structure and work environment, which is a direct result of the embedded culture present.

To gain insight as to how culture impacts the workplace cycle, a report by Royal Australasian College of Physicians and the Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, provides a concept termed "The Virtuous Circle":

Featured Image Credit: Improving workforce health and workplace productivity: A virtuous circle

The report states: "A 'virtuous circle,' an economic term, refers to a complex chain of events that manifests itself through a positive feedback loop in which each iteration of the cycle reinforces the previous one."

At the centre of all problems is the organisational culture and all leadership behaviours and the interaction of management with each other, and with employees, determines how employees behave - that's the feedback loop that occurs from the top to the bottom.

Improving the health and wellbeing of employees starts with leadership and organisational culture.

Organisational Health and Safety Performance

A report by Beyondblue indicates that while most organisations place importance on health and safety, the gap between importance and performance and two entirely different matters, particularly when it comes to mental health, as can be seen in this graph below.

Featured Image Credit: State of Workplace Mental Health in Australia, Beyond Blue

The Shift to a Proactive Approach

According to the report, this is the common scenario: an individual case is reported, the organisation reacts.

Having a reactive approach doesn't address any underlying causes that may lead to health and wellbeing issues, and it doesn't improve the quality of the work environment that subsequently improves the general health and wellbeing of employees. A reactive attitude feeds into a negative feedback loop that is self-perpetuating.

On the other hand, taking a proactive approach means investing in training and continuously improving commitment to company core values, which in turn, not only produces positive outcomes for employees, but is more cost effective for organisations - less sick leave, absenteeism, low staff turnover, and so forth.

The report recommends a proactive approach might include:

  • Management time spent strategising and designing policy
  • In-depth training for staff and management teams
  • More flexible and adaptive working arrangements