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Professor warns 'emotionally illiterate managers' are threatening firms' wellbeing

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Managers without the skills to spot mental health issues in their staff should not be given top positions in companies, one of the UK’s senior psychologists in wellbeing and organizational health has urged.


Speaking for an event held in honour of 'Blue Monday' in London, Professor Sir Cary Cooper said that ensuring managers were as competent in their people skills as they are technically, was the single most powerful thing a business leader could do to increase wellbeing and productivity.

“The one thing I would do right now if I ran a company, would be an audit of all my managers from shop floor to top floor, to find out which ones have the social and interpersonal skills, and which ones don’t. And get rid of them, or put them in some other job unrelated to people. That would make a difference.”

He said much of the mental health and wellbeing debate hinges on manager competence, for example, a “socially sensitive” person would notice if one of their team seemed out of sorts, and would then be able to talk to them and see if they’re ok.

“They would know of [their employee’s] personal life in the sense, for example if he has a son who has a life-threatening illness. That’s just common sense."

Sir Cary Cooper said he would run an audit of his firm's interpersonal skills to see an impact on productivity if he were CEO of a firm

“It’s the skills that quite a lot of women have but we need that in a manager if we’re to retain people and get the most out of them. And we don’t have enough of them. We have people who are technically competent but emotionally illiterate. Until we can get that we’re not going to grow as an economy.”

Cooper, who is professor of organizational psychology and health at the Manchester Business School, said that companies are increasingly taking interpersonal skills seriously as a factor of manager competency, particularly in their approaches to hiring.

“[Hiring] the next [cohort of managers], firms should say, do they have the technical skills to do their job? Do they have equivalent people skills? If they don’t, don’t take them. I don’t care how good they are [technically] if they don’t have those [interpersonal skills] don’t take them.”

Professor Cooper was speaking yesterday on Monday 21 January at a pop up 'happiness experience' day organised by office space firm Staples

Blue Monday is the name given to the third Monday of January said to be the most depressing day of the year with post-Christmas blues, cold dark nights and abandoned new year resolutions combining to take their toll on workers. 

Find out what Dame Carol Black told us about the role of line managers in supporting wellbeing in the workplace. See YouTube interview here

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