Monthly one-to-one meetings between managers and staff could be key to easing mental health issues in the workplace. 

That’s according to Steven Tongue, Head of Human Resources & Compliance at Select Car Leasing, the UK’s largest independent specialists for car and van leasing.

Select Car Leasing employs almost 230 staff at its headquarters in Reading, Berks, and also has an additional 12 offices spread across the UK.

And since the beginning of 2022, Tongue and senior managers at the firm have implemented new strategies to help support staff with the ultimate aim of boosting productivity.

Supporting staff to improve productivity

A crucial facet has been to adopt regular, monthly face-to-face meetings – as well as workshops – where staff can voice concerns and also provide feedback on HR-related matters.

And Mr Tongue says the tactic is really paying off, with increased levels of employee engagement being reported by its staff.

He says: “Here at Select, we’ve always placed a huge emphasis on looking after our staff, but after living through the Covid-19 pandemic, we knew we had to adapt our approach.

“It’s something that became even more important as the workforce shifted from being at home in isolation to returning to the office.

“Where we might have been more reactive in the past in terms of our approach, I wanted to not only make sure we had good policies and procedures in place, but to also upskill managers around HR-related issues so that we can identify any wellbeing problems early.

“It’s about asking how we can respond when someone is struggling, how we can communicate to staff the support that’s in place, and how we can get feedback on our HR strategy.

“And fundamental to this new approach is making sure managers are having one-to-one meetings with their staff at least once a month. For me, it’s absolutely crucial these conversations are happening.”

Select found itself in the privileged position of actually being able to grow during the Covid-19 crisis, with staff levels increasing in both the sales team and admin department. At the start of the pandemic, the number of staff in Reading was actually below 200.

As part of the refreshed wellbeing process, procedures for absences have been updated, as has the Select Car Leasing employee handbook.

Meanwhile the focus on wellbeing at Select Car Leasing is also about making sure employees feel valued.

“Productivity comes from feeling valued”

Mr Tongue explains: “If you’re engaging with staff effectively, if you’re communicating with them, if you’re supporting them, and if you’re actually listening to them, they’re going to feel more valued. And a knock-on effect of this is that they’ll be more productive in their role.

“These one-to-one meetings, and the workshops, means that we, as a HR department, aren’t hiding behind our emails.

“We can send out emails telling people about our employee assistance programme… but that’s not enough to really raise awareness. You have to get in front of people so they fully understand where they can find help, and to also help them realise the potential benefits that help might bring.”

What about the issue of managers finding the time to complete the monthly one-to-ones?

Mr Tongue reveals: “At the start of the year, when we really started pushing the one-to-ones, my colleague, Jeff Chapman, said to managers, ‘If we gave you a million pounds each month for completing all of the one-to-ones, would you do them?’ Of course, they all said ‘yes!’ So it’s not about managers having time, it’s about the value that’s placed in these meetings.

“And now that we’re seeing such positive impacts, everyone is on board. We’ve realised that we can’t afford not to do them.”

Recent staff surveys following one-to-ones and workshops suggest 95 per cent of respondents have found them to be ‘relevant’ to their roles – and staff want more of it.

Mr Tongue – who praises his team who assist in the delivery of the HR strategy – adds: “For me, it’s a cost-effective approach that will make a difference.”

As part of Select Car Leasing’s ongoing programme of wellbeing-related workshops, external experts will also be invited to speak with staff.

A suite of e-learning programmes has also been made available through the company Learning Management System.

The Employee Assistance Programme, for example, is an online portal that provides a wealth of information for staff on a range of wellbeing issues. It features everything from how to cope with stress, through to healthy eating and even financial advice.

Mr Tongue says: “There’s some great content in there – and it’s up to us as managers to raise awareness among staff that it’s there for them to access.

“Some of these e-learning modules relating to compliance are already compulsory.

“But I want to get to a point where the mental health and wellbeing modules are also accessed by everyone, and which should be completed annually, so that everyone feels supported.”