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Managing to support good mental health

Managing to support good mental health


Becky Spencer looks at the benefits that supporting mental health at work can bring to businesses and their staff.

How do you rate your line manager’s people management skills? This was the question the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) asked around 6,000 employees as part of its research into how the way employees are managed impacts on their health.

Around a quarter of employees questioned rated their line manager’s people management skills as poor, with 50 per cent of these employees saying that their work has a negative impact on their mental health, compared to just 14 per cent of workers who rated their line manager’s people management skills as good.

This link between managers lacking in people management skills and poor mental health amongst workers will come as no surprise to anyone who has ever had a manager like this. It has been recognised for years. Back in 2004 when the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) launched its Management Standards for tackling work-related stress, line manager support for employees was identified as one of the key areas of work design which if not done well is associated with poor health, lower productivity and increased accident and sickness absence rates.

Thankfully, over the last 20 years, understanding around mental health generally and in relation to the workplace has increased significantly. However, stigma, misinformation and a lack of support (both in and out of the workplace) for those living with mental health illnesses are unfortunately still commonplace.

The scale of mental ill health

In England, each year, one in four adults experiences at least one diagnosable mental health problem, and the numbers are similar across the rest of the UK1,2,3.  Depression and anxiety are the most common mental illnesses affecting adults in the general population. They are also, alongside stress, the most common mental illnesses that employees say are caused or made worse by their work, accounting for 49 per cent of new and long-standing work-related health issues in 2022/23. This equates to 2,590 cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety per 100,000 workers, which resulted in 17.1 million lost working days – an average of 19.6 days per case.


According to the Labour Force Survey, the main causes of work-related stress, depression or anxiety reported by employees are workload, role uncertainty, lack of control and lack of management support. The CIPD’s latest Health and wellbeing at work survey of 918 organisations, representing 6.5 million employees, found lack of line manager skills/confidence to support wellbeing was the number one challenge employers across all sectors faced in supporting employee health and wellbeing.

Around two-thirds of organisations said their line managers have “bought into the importance of employee wellbeing” but just three in ten said they provide guidance/training for line managers on how to support people to stay at work when managing health conditions. Around half (55 per cent) said they train line managers to identify and reduce employee stress, and 44 per cent said they train managers to support staff with mental ill health.

Legal requirements

The law requires all employers to ensure risks of stress and mental ill health are considered in health and safety risk assessments. Where a risk is identified, steps must be taken to remove it or reduce it as far as reasonably practicable. Training line managers in how to support staff with a mental health illness is a key part of this, whether work is causing the mental health condition or making it worse.

Line managers are not expected to be counsellors or therapists but they should be checking in regularly with their team members in order to spot any early warning signs of poor mental health/wellbeing and any work-related issues that may be contributing to it, such as a heavy workload, a tight deadline, lone working or issues within the team. This will then enable them to signpost any employee who needs it to the correct sources of help.

Of course, an employee does not have to, and may not want to, disclose a mental health condition to their employer. In many cases this lack of disclosure is down to the stigma surrounding mental ill health and employee concerns they will be treated differently in the workplace or even lose their jobs.

Good practice

These concerns highlight why ensuring line managers have good people management skills is so important. Managers with these skills build better relationships with their staff and are more likely to create a working environment where employees feel safe to talk about any mental health issues they may have. So, the onus is really on employers to ensure their line managers are properly trained to carry out their people management role and, importantly, are given the time and support from senior leadership to do it well.

And remember, no one is immune to mental health issues, so senior leaders in organisations need to make sure they are checking in on line managers and having those discussions about wellbeing, workload and any difficulties with them too. A mentally healthy workplace starts from the top.

There are lots of excellent free resources available to help employers and line managers better support employees with mental health conditions, including:

  • The CIPD/Mind People managers’ guide to mental health  which provides an overview of mental health conditions as well as guidance on spotting the early signs of stress and poor mental health and on identifying potential workplace triggers. It also provides advice on how to encourage people to talk about their mental health, including a conversation checklist, as well as clear guidance on what to do if an employee discloses a mental health condition.
  • The line managers’ resource covers similar topics as well as advice on promoting mental wellbeing and managing sickness absence and return to work.
  • Mind’s Introduction to mentally healthy workplaces resource provides advice on how to create a mentally healthy workplace through promoting staff wellbeing, tackling the causes of work-related mental health problems, and supporting staff who are experiencing mental ill health.
  • HSE’s website has some really useful guidance for line managers on their role in identifying and supporting employees with mental ill health conditions, as well as advice on implementing its Stress Management Standards  and an overview of mental health conditions, work and the workplace.

A recent analysis found the cost to employers of poor employee mental health now stands at around £56bn each year as a result of absenteeism, presenteeism and high staff turnover. More positively, it found the case for employer investment is stronger than ever, with an average £5 return for every £1 spent on wellbeing support.  The business case is clear – a mentally healthy workplace is more productive, has lower staff turnover, fewer absences, higher staff morale and improved working relationships.

So, when was the last time your line manager checked in on you?


Becky Spencer is a writer and editor on health and safety and accident prevention at work, in the home, during leisure activities and on the road. She was previously Managing Editor of RoSPA’s occupational safety & health journals and is currently editor of the European Association for Injury Prevention & Safety Promotion (EuroSafe) newsletter.


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