One third of managers don't know how to support employee mental health

“Sometimes senior leaders are not seen to walk the talk”

Jaskeet Briah
clock • 3 min read
One third of managers don't know how to support employee mental health

One third (33%) of managers feel out of their depth when it comes to supporting the mental health of their employees, Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA) has found.

MHFA's research, conducted by One Poll, surveyed 2,000 working adults with managerial responsibilities, finding that concerns over supporting teams' mental health jumped to 45% of managers who are below the age of 25.

Although three-quarters (75%) of the managers surveyed said that acting on the mental health concerns of their staff is part of their responsibility as an employer, many don't know how.

Speaking to COVER, MHFA England's chief executive Simon Blake said too many managers take up managerial roles because they were good at running a project, rather than because they are good at working with people.

"If we train managers well, that provides the foundation for them to have good quality conversations about mental health and wellbeing," he commented.

"To get those foundations right, you need to understand the stigma, signs and symptoms to be able to see where things may not be well, and then how to ask questions and have those conversations."

Moreover, MHFA England found that the senior leadership in companies are "proving to be a roadblock to a positive transformation" on mental health and wellbeing, with 25% of managers stating that a change in attitude from the top would help teams to "bring their whole self to work".

"Our survey showed that sometimes senior leaders are not seen to walk the talk. They sometimes create an expectation that it's all about performance, rather than that performance and wellbeing are important bedfellows," Blake added.

Consequently, more education, awareness, and discussion at the most senior ranks of organisations is required, he stated.

Amid the rising cost of living impacting on employee wellbeing, 74% of managers surveyed were increasingly concerned about the mental health of their staff, while 23% are "very worried".

Crucial role

MFHA said that managers play a crucial role in creating an inclusive working environment, and that employers can "drive positive transformation" in workplace mental health and job performances if diversity and inclusion is brought together with health and wellbeing.

 As such, further training from employers would be helpful for over one quarter (29%) of managers to do this.

"There are all sorts of events where people can learn both online and face to face, as well as things like awards which drive that change," Blake commented.

"Change will never be immediate; it always takes time. It will probably never be fast enough, but there is a significant shift that is happening at all levels and that will continue. We've got to make sure that it does continue as we move through this next stage of the cost of living crisis."

Blake revealed there is a "significant cultural shift" which is happening around mental health and wellbeing, an issue which is now "absolutely core to younger generations' view and social purpose".

As a result, managers need to embed mental health discourse in everyday practices, rather than it being a "one-off communication", he explained, and mental health first aiders must be visible within the organisation so employees have different routes to access support across the organisation.

"If we are doing work which is around creating inclusive cultures, we are doing work which is supporting wellbeing because inclusive cultures are ones in which people with different personality types, different identities, different languages, etc., will all feel as though they are contributing to an organisation where their beliefs, experiences and expertise are valued."

Blake also said there is a much bigger danger to face than employees feeling patronised by the implementation of wellbeing support, namely that employees feel excluded, marginalised, unvalued, and discriminated against.

"For me, the risk is that we don't [bring together diversity and inclusion with health and wellbeing], and people don't feel as though they are psychologically safe to contribute their best work.

"Psychological safety in the workplace is about people feeling as though they are going to be treated, seen and valued with respect and dignity, where everybody feels able to contribute," he said.

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