How to Engage Managers in Creating an Open Corporate Culture: 7 HR Tips

25 Sep ‘22
5 min
Work performance
Editorial Board OpenUp
Gecontroleerd door Psychologist Ida Dommerholt

Many organizations strive for a corporate culture where everyone feels free to speak openly about their challenges and experiences in relation to mental health. In order to develop a corporate culture like this, it’s extremely important to actively engage managers and team leaders. What can you as an HR professional do to engage managers and team leaders in taking mental health seriously, eradicating taboos, and promoting an open corporate culture?


Managers and team leaders are at the forefront when it comes to promoting an open culture. They speak to employees on a daily basis and set an example for the rest of the company. In this article we’ll explain how, with the help of OpenUp, you can encourage them to speak openly about mental health.


1.    Prioritize the mental health of the managers themselves


If your managers aren’t feeling great about themselves, you can’t really expect them to devote themselves wholeheartedly to employee mental health. This means that your first priority has to be caring for the mental health of your managers. 


These are the basic principles for caring for the mental health of your managers, according to the psychologists at OpenUp:


  1. Suitable criteria for management promotions. A common mistake is promoting high-performing individuals to management even though they lack leadership skills. Strong performance isn’t always a relevant indicator of a good leader. In fact, high-performing individuals are often worse at delegating because they’d rather keep tasks to themselves.


  1. Let team members have a say when it comes to hiring external managers. For example, have them take part in one of the application rounds. Because a good fit between manager and team is an important ingredient for a pleasant working relationship. And that, in turn, is a prerequisite for good mental health. 


  1. Letting new managers make decisions right away. Autonomy and mental health go hand in hand.
  2. An open-door policy at HR. Make it clear to managers that they are always welcome at HR if they’re struggling with their mental health. Or better still, before they’re struggling with their mental health, but facing some dark clouds on the horizon. Because prevention is better than cure. 


  1. Easy and anonymous access to licensed psychologists. In addition, give managers access to one-on-one consultations with psychologists, who can support them from the sidelines in their work and home situations. Whether as a one-off or on a regular basis. For big things or small things. With OpenUp, employees can access one-on-one consultations, group sessions and mindfulness exercises within 24 hours, available in over 17 languages. 


2.   Engage managers and team leaders in conversations about the corporate culture


For you as an HR manager, the mental health of employees is top of mind. For managers and team leaders, that’s not necessarily the case. This means you need to invite managers and team leaders into conversations about creating an open corporate culture where employees can speak freely about their mental health challenges.


Together you can develop a plan of approach that’s not just meaningful, but also feasible and effective for team leaders and managers. This will ensure that team leaders and managers buy in, which will increase the likelihood of them actually putting the strategies devised into practice. 


3. Create a mental health guide


Set out the plan in a guide. In it, write down the culture related to mental health that you’re envisioning and how you want to get there. Be careful when setting quantitative goals. This topic doesn’t always lend itself well to that.


“A decrease in the number of people with symptoms of burnout” or “a decrease in absences related to mental health” are obviously great goals, but hard targets are less desirable. It should really be about people not numbers. 


Also, set out in this guide what managers and team leaders can do to get the conversation about mental health going with staff (and keep it going). For example, by being open about their own mental health.


4.   Training for managers: Recognizing and addressing challenges


One of the most significant stumbling blocks for managers and team leaders when it comes to tackling employee mental health is lacking the relevant skills. They aren’t psychologists after all. 


How are they supposed to identify a struggling employee? And then how are they supposed to engage them in conversation? Which terms should they use to describe mental health challenges and what should they avoid saying? 


Creating a good conversational culture can be a challenge. At OpenUp, we can help your company by having our psychologists share their knowledge about communication and relationships. See here for more information.


5.   Encourage managers and team members to be open about their wellbeing


If you want a transparent corporate culture where employees feel comfortable speaking about their mental health, you need managers who are comfortable speaking about their mental health. Because someone needs to set an example. 


This can be done in roughly two ways:


  1.     In daily practice: Encourage managers to make speaking about mental health a regular part of team meetings. The managers themselves can start this off by talking about what they’re struggling with. It doesn’t have to be anything big, for example consider: “I slept badly last night so I’m not as alert as usual”, or “this new client is stressing me out because he’s very demanding”.
  2.     At big events: If a manager or team leader is struggling with problems related to their mental health, consider collectively letting this be known within the organization. By doing this, you’ll shatter taboos and teach employees that there’s no shame in this area.


We spoke with Mark de Lange, founder of Ace & Tate, about this: “We’ve always been pretty open at Ace & Tate. Despite the fact that I myself sometimes find it difficult, as a founder I try to be extra approachable, for example by having conversations with a psychologist and sharing these conversations with employees. This way I’m showing that I also struggle with challenges and that I want to encourage others to share theirs too.”


6.   Set a good example


You’ve got to set an example. We already said that, right? That doesn’t just apply to managers and team leaders addressing staff, but also to you addressing managers and team leaders. If you’re asking them to be open, make sure to be open yourself. 


This can also be a daily practice, during a meeting or simply over lunch or at big HR team events. 


John Shook – the first American manager of Japanese brand Toyota – developed an award-winning model that underlines this. Although you’d traditionally think that you first need to change the culture and then people’s ideas to then change their behavior, Shook teaches that it works the opposite way around: First change their behavior, then people’s ideas and the culture will follow.


7.   Create a group of open people within the management team


If you want to kick-start managers and team leaders into creating an environment of openness around mental health, it helps to appoint a group of trailblazers. Allow this group to explore the “whys” of openness: Why it’s important but also why it’s difficult. 


They can share their successes and the lessons they’ve learned. And it’s okay to make mistakes. Everyone will be able to learn from this. This way they’ll inspire the rest of the management team to do the same.


Using these tips, you can get your managers and team leaders on board with your mission of creating a safe environment where employees are free to speak up about their mental health.