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Mental ill health: The line manager's role

With the right guidance line managers are ideally placed to foster a climate conducive to mental wellbeing

Looking after mental health at work has historically been ignored. But it's an increasing priority and one all organisations should look to today on World Mental Health Day.

Mental health issues such as stress, depression or anxiety account for almost 70 million sick days per year, and cost the UK economy between £70 billion and £100 billion a year.

Since the recession the requirement to 'do more with less' has become 'business as usual'. As such, many employees are struggling with bigger workloads, tighter deadlines, tougher targets, and a sense of being out of control. The way staff are managed and supported to sustain both their performance and wellbeing is increasingly what sets successful organisations apart.

The old adage that people join companies but leave managers still holds true – it’s undeniable that the way line managers interact with their teams directly affects the mental health of those teams. With the right guidance line managers are ideally placed to create and foster a climate that is conducive to the wellbeing of their team and to spot changes in behaviour or performance that could indicate an underlying mental health issue.

Increasingly, employers are equipping their managers with the skillset to support the mental and emotional health of their teams. One solution is to train staff in mental health first aid (MHFA). MHFA is the mental health equivalent of physical first aid training, and gives people the skills and confidence to recognise the signs of common mental health issues and effectively guide a person towards the right support.

Here are just some signs that suggest an employee may need support with their mental health:

  • Increased errors, missing deadlines or forgetting tasks
  • Taking on too much work and volunteering for every new project
  • Working too many hours – first in, last out, emailing out of hours or while on holiday
  • An employee who is normally punctual frequently arriving late
  • Increased sickness absence
  • Being overly fixated with fair treatment and quick to use grievance procedures

If you’re concerned about a member of your team it is important to reassure them your door is always open – and really mean it. It's particularly essential to keep in touch with an employee who is off sick. You should also give reassurance that there are lots of sources of support and some of these might be available through the HR or occupational health department, employee assistance programmes or onsite counselling.

However, if you work in a company with limited support services it’s also appropriate to encourage the person to visit their GP for guidance around accessing the NHS-funded programme ‘Improving Access to Psychological Therapies’.

For more guidance around how to approach and respond to a colleague who is experiencing a mental health issue download the free Line Managers Resource at mhfaengland.org/workplace/line-managers-resource

Poppy Jaman is CEO of Mental Health First Aid England