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Why line managers are key in managing and supporting mental health at work

Did you know that according to Mental Health at Work, only 10% of employees in the UK with a mental health issue feel confident in talking about their condition, particularly to their line manager?

Equally as concerning, fewer than 25% of managers have been offered training to spot early warning signs of mental ill-health and have supportive conversations.

The way line managers interact with their staff in and out of work has a profound effect on their mental health. Management behaviour is often cited as the reason behind employees suffering from work-related stress. Managers are proficient in softer people management skills such as listening non judgmentally and with empathy empower their staff to take ownership of their mental health, improve their wellbeing and boost their resilience.

Nobody expects line managers to act as mental health experts, and nor should they. Line managers do have to consider their duty of care and need to take an active interest in the health and wellbeing of their teams. They should be supported in doing so to ensure they remain confident in offering appropriate support and guidance to those they manage.


There are plenty of different options available to help increase line manager awareness and confidence of mental health in the workplace.

Mental Health First Aid training (MHFA) is one way to educate managers and teams to spot the first signs of mental ill-health and give them the knowledge and confidence to help colleagues in distress.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Management Standards use a risk assessment process to help employers pinpoint the extent and causes of, employees’ work-related stress and how to manage that stress more effectively.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and Investors in People have also developed a stress management ‘competency indicator’ framework of tools to allow managers to assess whether they currently have the behaviours identified as effective for preventing and reducing stress at work.


Unfortunately, mental health is still very stigmatised in the workplace. We often view mental health terminology quite negatively. The word ‘mental’ itself still has many negative connotations and is frequently used in a derogatory way. Speaking about mental health in such a way reinforces a culture where mental health issues may be viewed as a weakness. This leads to employees feeling less confident about disclosing they have an issue through fear of being chastised or even punished if they do.


It is important for line managers to be aware of the legislation around mental health in the workplace. Perhaps the most relevant is the Equality Act (2010). Under the Act a mental health condition is considered a disability, one of nine protected characteristics. If you are seen to be discriminating against an employee because of their mental health condition you could be prosecuted.


Promote wellbeing

NICE recommends employers should strengthen the role of line managers in promoting the mental wellbeing of employees through supportive leadership styles and management practices. This covers areas such as promoting a management style that encourages participation, delegation, constructive feedback, mentoring and coaching. It also recommends employers should support line managers to increase their understanding of how management style and practices can help to promote the mental wellbeing of employees and keep their stress to a minimum. Full guidance can be found at NICE Guidance (NG13) Workplace Health: Management Practices.

Employers need to work closely with their line managers and consider what they are doing in the following areas.

  • Develop a work culture where everyone is treated with respect and dignity and a zero-tolerance policy for bullying and harassment
  • Encourage an environment where all staff know that it’s OK to talk about mental health.
  • Give employees as much control over their work as you can. Lack of autonomy is a major cause of stress
  • Assess whether people have manageable workloads and the right level of resources to their jobs to the best of their ability
  • Look into flexible working opportunities to help people achieve a better work life balance.
  • Actively promoting the governments ‘The Five Ways to Wellbeing’ – a set of evidence-based, everyday actions that can boost our wellbeing. They are Connect, be Active, take Notice, keep Learning, and Give.


People don’t leave jobs, they leave managers. Line managers are often considered the squeezed middle in that they have the pressures of being held accountable to senior managers yet trying to manage and support their direct reports. Far too many line managers inherit managerial roles for the wrong reasons. They can lack the necessary management training required to prepare them to manage a diverse number of people within a team. It is fundamental to long term business success that employers provide managers with opportunities to excel in their roles, particularly in support of managing the health and wellbeing of their teams.


Want to provide better mental health support to your entire workforce?

Pascal® is an innovative online mental health support platform that allows you and your employees to measure home and work pressure, ensures you comply with HSE regulations and employment law, and importantly, provide your employees with more support surrounding mental health.

Taking less than 10 minutes to complete, employees will receive a confidential report with recommendations and links to existing support pathways. Your company report then identifies hotspots and trends to focus your mental health strategy around.  Learn more about Pascal here.

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