The role of line managers in promoting mental health

Lizzie Buxton

Written By Lizzie Buxton

15th May 2019

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Mental health in the workplace is an issue that continues to draw attention, particularly as one in four Brits now experience mental ill health each year. Investing in mental health means investing in people, and the potential returns on this investment are huge.

Our recent webinar, which is now available on-demand, covers the five essentials of mental health awareness, including case studies you can apply to real situations.

As a line manager, your responsibility to stay in-the-know is higher than most. Many mental health problems surface in the workplace, so your management style can really impact people’s lives. Here is a run-down of the basics:

1. Prevention: encouraging wellness and stress management

Stress can trigger mental ill health in people who are susceptible. It is impossible to completely eliminate stress in the workplace, since targets, deadlines and difficult interactions may be inherent in some jobs.

However, your management style can subtly impact how stress affects everyone. To learn more about your management style and what this could mean for your team, take a look at our Manager Essentials Training package.

Fostering a working culture where everyone feels able to discuss stress is the first step in prevention. The AdviserPlus Mental Health Report found huge differences in how frequently men report mental health issues across industries, suggesting some workplaces are fostering a culture that is behind the times.

Workplace wellness schemes might include on-site fitness provisions or mental health first aiders. Remind your workers to take their lunch breaks and encourage positive modes of communication.

2. Early intervention: being proactive and aware

As a line manager, it is important to know the difference between what you can and can’t achieve. You can’t singlehandedly cure an employee of their mental ill health, but you can look out for problems, ask questions in the right way and provide signposting.

This might mean taking the time to meet with an employee if you feel something is not quite right. It isn’t your job to diagnose depression or anxiety – but opening up a conversation can make them feel supported and prompt them to seek help.

Many managers feel overwhelmed when they need to discuss mental health – it is normal to feel like you don’t understand, especially if you haven’t had mental health training. A lack of knowledge can make communication difficult, though, so watch our free Mental Health Awareness webinar to learn about the differences between depression and anxiety – and how to spot the symptoms.

When you spot symptoms, signposting can help employees to know where to turn. Speaking to a GP is usually a good first step if your company does not have its own counselling scheme.

mental health in the workplace

3. Crisis management: helping people to stay in work

Sometimes, mental health issues become serious. At this stage, severe symptoms could lead to absenteeism – and the 2018 Adviser Plus Absenteeism Report noted that mental ill health and stress were two of the three leading causes of absence, something that costs the UK economy £18 billion each year.

Though prevention is better than cure, there are times when you will need to manage an employee in a crisis. In this scenario, it is important to remember that your goal and theirs should be the same. Needless to say, staff turnover can be costly – if they lose their job, you’ll be burdened with the time and financial cost of recruitment and training. However, it’s also important to remember that work is good for us, so it is in the worker’s best interests to have a healthy relationship with work.

As a manager, it isn’t your responsibility to clinically treat a mental health crisis and nor should you try. But, by keeping the lines of communication open and asking supportive questions, you can create a workplace environment that makes for a smoother recovery. 

4. Understanding the implications of change

It’s not all about listening and reacting to workers’ struggles with anxiety or depression. Part of your responsibility as a leader lies in recognising how your management style and the decisions you take could impact mental health.

Strong leadership means recognising personality differences within your team. A decision that seems positive on the surface could have negative implications for the wrong employee. For example, some people prefer processes while others are driven by spontaneity. This means mismatched promotions can cause stress, which could result in far worse implications for the employee. Don’t be afraid to have frank discussions about working preferences and expectations.

5. Suicide prevention

Suicide is now the biggest killer of men under 40, so it has never been more important to understand the magnitude of this risk. Our webinar discusses the warning signs of suicide and why you should always take them seriously. It’s the most extreme manifestation of a mental health issue.

There are many common misconceptions around suicide – if your colleague talks about being unable to cope, wishing to escape or becomes preoccupied with death, they could be at risk. This is true even if they are successful and there are ways to help.

If you are concerned about someone, you can call NHS 111 for advice and information on local services. If you have been affected by suicide or related issues, Samaritans are available to talk on 116 123.

Greater mental health awareness is positive – and a growing trend in society. Yet, while it’s good news for individuals if their employer is able to help their mental health, it can also have a significant financial benefit for a business too. By being aware of mental health issues and how to manage them sensitively you can help people to avoid needing time out of the office.

At AdviserPlus, for example, we saw a great example of this with the Post Office where we managed to train 700 staff in mental health awareness, saving £500,000 in reduced absence costs.


If you want to know more about HR’s role in identifying and assisting with mental health issues?

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