Mental Health Training for Line Managers

RSSB research reveals best approach for training managers in mental health.

Stress and mental health are the leading cause of long-term absences in the rail industry (ORR, 2018). The Centre for Mental Health estimates that a total of 72 million working days are lost each year on absence due to mental health issues, costing employers an estimated £35 billion per year (The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, 2017). Effective strategies could reduce this by as much as 30 per cent, including awareness training and effective rehabilitation – saving employers up to £8 billion per year (Centre for Mental Health, 2007). 
RSSB’s report on the impact of suicides on railway staff (RSSB 2005) and guidance for responding to potentially traumatic incidents (RSSB, 2019), highlights how the unique working environment carries unique psychosocial hazards. Furthermore, the report ‘Costs of impaired health across the network’ (RSSB, 2014) provides a strong business case for greater mental health and wellbeing support in the industry, which found 1.06m days are lost to sickness in the industry due to ill health in general.

The Government commissioned review of mental health and employers, Thriving at Work (Stevenson & Farmer, 2017), identified effective people management as a core standard for employers. Providing the right training for line managers is vital in helping them understand, manage and promote mental health and wellbeing at work. It equips them with more confidence in managing absence from work resulting from poor mental health and in managing subsequent risks associated with stress at work. This not only benefits their direct line reports but has positive implications for company productivity through potential reductions in absence due to mental health, decreased staff turnover and less ‘presenteeism’.

The project, 'Understanding the conditions for successful mental health training for managers' (reference T1124) was commissioned on behalf of the cross-industry Health and Wellbeing Economics Group. The research was undertaken to shine more light on an area of employee health that lacks scientific research historically.

What are the best mental health and wellbeing topics to teach to line managers?

There are five topics which should be included in mental health training for line managers.

The T1124 literature review provides further information on features of training courses that have been highlighted as successful, including:

  • Providing opportunities for interaction with other learners
  • Using real-life experiences to illustrate points, for example; personal accounts of real employees who have struggled with their mental health (eg on video)
  • Case studies showing how particular situations were managed at work
  • Tailoring content as far as possible to the participants sector/job roles

What are the best methods available for training line managers in mental health and wellbeing?

The study found no differences in the outcomes of face-to-face and e-learning training. Both benefited participants.

The findings that face-to-face training and e-learning methods are equal in effectiveness, allows rail companies to choose the method of delivery that suits their organisation without the risk of compromising effectiveness.

What were the benefits to those who attended training?

The first of its kind to examine the effects on line managers specifically, the study compared the two different formats against a control group.  The Impact on participants was evaluated directly after the training and 6 weeks later.

The results showed that both face-to-face and e-learning interventions led to sustained changes in the line managers’ knowledge about mental health and in their preparedness to take action on mental health issues.

To further embed the mental health learnings and communication skills, refresher training and additional resources may be helpful.

RSSB have commissioned a further study which is currently underway on embedding mental health training.

What is the most appropriate way to support the costs of providing training?

The robust randomised controlled trial design of this evaluation combined with in-depth qualitative analysis provides high quality evidence to support future investment in this training where both types of training were shown to be fit for purpose.

How can rail companies measure the beneficial impacts created through training?

Training providers should be encouraged to use rigorous approaches with validated measures that capture meaningful change. The most meaningful beneficial impacts are those which are sustained into the longer term, four to six weeks after training. Participants should also be asked whether they have put their training into action.

What is the most appropriate way to maintain ongoing training activity within rail (e.g training enough staff, re-training, knowledge retention)? 

The study findings make a strong case for rolling out the training more widely to line managers in all parts of the rail industry. Further systemic intervention is required to support people in having conversations about mental health and to change their attitudes and beliefs.

RSSB and the Institute for Employment Studies will be undertaking further research to determine if refresher training and how its delivered can help embed the learning.  This research is due to be published by February 2020.

RSSB and Mind are working together to improve accessibility to e-learning for rail companies. For further information on either face to face or e-learning training, please contact michelle.o’


Understanding the conditions for successful mental health training for managers
Understanding the elements of successful mental health training for managers - briefing leaflet
Haven’t found what you’re looking for?
Get in touch with our mental health expert for more information.
Michelle O'Sullivan
Tel: 020 3142 5353
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