• Third of line managers would struggle to identify if staff had mental health issues

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  • 14 Sep 2017
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Managers must feel comfortable broaching the subject with employees, experts say

A third (34 per cent) of line managers would struggle to identify whether their staff were experiencing mental health problems, new research has revealed, highlighting a need for greater communication in the workplace.

The report from Bupa also found that a similar proportion (30 per cent) of those with line manager duties would not know what to do if somebody in their team did have issues with mental health.

“It is clear that there is more to be done to ensure that all line managers feel comfortable broaching the subject of mental health, and are confident about the ways that they can support their people,” said Paula Franklin, UK medical director at Bupa.

Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, added that line managers must feel able to confidently support staff struggling with mental health issues. “Trust is key to whether people will feel they can disclose to their manager that they have a mental health issue or any other concern that is impacting on their wellbeing,” he said. “Employers need to ensure that line managers have the people management skills around communication, listening, empathy, providing support and coaching, which will mean their staff will feel more confident to talk to them on sensitive issues such as mental health.”

Research published this week by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development revealed that people in the UK are among the most depressed in the developed world, thanks in part to job dissatisfaction. According to the data, 10 per cent of 25 to 64-year-olds in the UK are suffering from depression, ranking the UK in joint seventh place out of 25 European and Scandinavian countries.

Meanwhile, figures published by NHS Digital earlier this month found there had been a 14 per cent increase in the number of workers signed off sick or put on restricted duties because of stress or anxiety between 2015-16 and 2016-17, compared with a 6 per cent rise in sick notes overall.

Another study published in August by the University of Manchester, which measured chronic stress among more than 1,000 adults, revealed that the highest levels of stress were among those who moved from unemployment into poor-quality work, suggesting a bad job could be worse for people’s health than no job at all.

“Line managers need to be able to spot the early warnings signs that might suggest someone is struggling with a mental health problem – for example, changes in performance, working excessive hours, taking sick leave or changes in their emotional response, such as having a shorter temper or less patience,” Willmott said. “Given line managers’ fundamental role in supporting employee wellbeing, it is vital that organisations invest in developing the core people management skills that will support trust, confidence and wellbeing across their workforce.”


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  • This article unfortunately does not come as a surprise to me but perhaps now is the time to start thinking about who we promote into line management positions. It is typical to take someone great at their job and promote them to management, making the assumption that they want to be and are management material or that you can teach the soft management skills around "communication, listening, empathy, providing support and coaching" as this article states are essential for meeting duty of care to our staff in a world of increasing stress.

    But if you promote those who are good at the technical stuff they may not be the people managers that you want or need. Take the example of public service scientists who are promoted into roles with more and more paperwork and more and more line management duties, why are these people promoted? Because they are brilliant scientists, but being a brilliant scientist is unlikely to make you a brilliant manager. So let's look at management and understand that this is a skill that we can teach but would it be better to keep the scientists as scientists and people with people skills as the managers? That way we are less likely to miss the person in need of support.