What is the role of HR in supporting adult Survivors?

Jennie Hockey asked  Sue Gott, HR Consultant and Director of Bluebell HR Solutions Ltd, for her views on the issues around adult Survivors and mental health in the workplace.

JH: What’s your experience of working with Survivors of childhood trauma?

I met Serena Bradshaw (Managing Director of Goddards) and learnt about Survivors, then not long after that I dealt with two cases where I actually realised that something had happened way back, not recently. And those cases were so far down the line at this point —to me, if I had more knowledge and had been involved from the start I could have handled them differently. I’m not an expert now, but I now know who to talk to and that’s the difference. If I’ve got the confidence to pick up the phone and call Thrive and say this person has told me this, or this is what I am seeing they are presenting these things, I can then say actually I think you need to go and get some professional help on this have you thought about coaching etc.

This might be too much for a line manager themselves but knowing when to hand this over to HR is important. There is a danger in making everybody an expert.

Having someone like Thrive where you can see “have you spotted these signs? If you don’t have an internal HR then call this number”, rather than expecting line managers who are being pushed to deliver outcomes to deal with it. Some people are naturally more judgemental. Often a difficult employee is disrupting business outcomes or the team and they may not make the best decisions when they have competing priorities. They might push harder than they should, and someone may end up on long-term sick rather than catching it early and putting in workplace adjustments, reducing hours etc to at least keep them in work. The moment someone goes off it is a lot harder to pull them back.

JH: Should HR managers be able to resolve these issues themselves?

Where there is already an established HR function within the business I tend to be engaged to deal with more complex issues, mental health being one of those things. There is a stigma for those who suffer from mental health, although it is getting better; and there’s also a stigma with employers because they are frightened to deal with Survivors and mental health issues for fear of getting it wrong—and then how much that might cost them in potential discrimination claims.

For me, it’s about education for the employer.  I’m not suggesting everyone should become experts because I don’t think it’s either feasible or the right thing to do; but they should have a level of knowledge to be able to assess where they need additional support.

It is really important to be able to spot signs to enable them to do an early intervention before it becomes a heavy lift. Because then that is hard for the employee and it is hard for the employer.

JH: You say education is important—is it simply a case of attending awareness training sessions?

I almost think you need to have lived through a live example, you learn from your mistakes. Making sure that if you have to deal with a difficult case then, as a manager, you get as much support as you can. Whether that is occupational health or someone in HR that has more experience of dealing with such matters. You’ll only get confidence when you have handled a few difficult situations. You should then take time to reflect on what you have done and said and learn from it.

I think until you’ve been through something, you know I had a few problems/challenges myself a couple of years ago and I didn’t really understand mental health issues until then. I think it’s the best thing that could have happened, from a professional perspective, to help me have more empathy and understanding. The tough side of me says I did come through it and the only person who could get me through it was me.

I have a kit bag from my own experience to say “have you thought about this? What support are you getting? Take some time out for yourself” And if you’ve not been through that you don’t know what you don’t know.

JH: What skills/knowledge do HR managers need in this area?

I think HR managers need a basic level of understanding and an empathetic approach—or if they can’t provide this themselves, they need to ensure there is someone within their business who they can signpost to. Having something like the Thrive Portal which will help build confidence and understanding is definitely one way to go.

JH: What is the value of HR managers investing in the Thrive Portal?

The Thrive Portal is good for raising awareness for HR and line managers and having an immediate support mechanism. As well as knowing that there are other things that they, as a result of having access to that portal, can get —whether that is coaching or an HR specialist. I think it is a very good promotional tool for employee engagement. The employer is saying: “We know people suffer from this and we care. You can talk to us”. I think that is a real positive. It is also quite specialist, it’s not someone just coming in and doing yoga or some other wellbeing initiative, it’s quite tailored.


Sue has worked in HR for 23 years and founded her own HR consultancy business eight years ago. Her experience in HR has been strengthened as a result of working across sectors from healthcare to creative industries. As Sue progressed her career she found the majority of her time was spent managing bureaucracy rather than having a positive impact on the business operation and working with people. 

Sue Gott

Find Sue on LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/sue-gott-a081481b

Disclaimer: Goddard Consultants Coaching Practice CIC is not responsible for the view expressed in this article – the views expressed are those of the blog article author. Blog articles are not an endorsement of an individual or a service.

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