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Line managers need more support

06 March 2019

LINE MANAGERS are not being given enough support and training to protect the mental health and wellbeing of staff at work, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) and Management Today have revealed.

They found 62% of line managers are not receiving enough help from their organisation to support the mental wellbeing of their staff. Only 31% of respondents said they feel they have been sufficiently trained to recognise the signs of poor mental health in their direct reports.

Organisations can take a better preventative approach to building and maintaining positive, supportive workplace cultures – early action can make a vast difference in helping avert any issues or nip them in the bud before they escalate.

IOSH and Management Today conducted a survey of more than 400 employees from a variety of businesses across the UK to get a clearer picture of what is being done in the workplace to support those with mental health problems.

The survey results indicate businesses are not being proactive enough when it comes to tackling poor mental health in the workplace.

The survey also found that most workers in the UK are reluctant to discuss their mental health with their line managers, with a staggering 80% fearing stigmatisation and being seen as incapable in their role.

A further 30% expressed concern it would lead to them being treated differently and receiving special treatment, with one participant commenting: “I have been diagnosed with anxiety and depression but never admitted to it at work for fear of being stigmatised.”

Head of advice and practice at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health Duncan Spencer said, “Line managers are vital in creating workplaces that are positive for people’s mental health and wellbeing. We know work is only one factor in someone’s mental health but working for an organisation that’s serious about creating a work culture that doesn’t cause issues such as stress and anxiety can make such a difference.

“What the survey findings tell us is that there’s still much to be done in convincing businesses they need a ‘prevention first’ approach to managing mental health and wellbeing. The good news is that there’s affordable advice and training out there to help them do so.”

IOSH has produced a white paper informed by the survey findings to provide guidance on the role of line managers in promoting positive mental health.

The white paper argues it is vital line managers understand how to manage fluctuations in workers’ mental health, what the causes of ill-health can be, how to recognise when employees may be unwell, and how to advise on where to access further support if they are to be effective in promoting positive mental health in the workplace.

Employers are already required by law to provide training on physical health and safety, and IOSH believes it is time the same requirements applied to mental health. Line managers can be a key asset in creating healthier, happier and more productive workforces, providing they are equipped with the relevant skills.

The survey highlights much more work still needs to be done to create workplace environments and company cultures where employees are able to divulge any issues they might have without fear of harming their career prospects or being stigmatised.

Duncan added, “Businesses need to be working hard to break down the taboos surrounding mental health and creating more open lines of communication. They need to be supporting their managers to fulfil their role by equipping them with the skills and knowledge to promote positive mental health, but without placing unrealistic expectations on them. In return they will reap the rewards of happier, healthier, more engaged and productive employees.”

Other key findings from the survey include:

  • More than half of organisations (57%) said their organisation offers no mental health and wellbeing training and/or support for managerial staff.
  • Those that do have training and support in place within their organisation reported in most cases it is optional (79%) rather than mandatory (22%).

IOSH's Managing Occupational Health and Wellbeing course and technical guidance can address many of the issues raised in the survey. IOSH has developed practical solutions to tackling mental health and wellbeing at work. 

A link to the white paper and survey is available here