· News

Employees not supported through mental health issues

Line managers routinely overestimate how well their workplace supports mental health and wellbeing

Only a third (34%) of workers who have experienced a mental health problem in the past five years felt well-supported by their manager, according to research from the Mental Health Foundation and Unum.

The research surveyed 2,019 adults, including 644 line managers who had not experienced mental health problems and 1,265 workers who had been diagnosed with mental health problems. It found that line managers routinely overestimate how well their workplace supports staff mental health and wellbeing. Nearly half (45%) of managers surveyed thought that an employee experiencing a mental health problem would be supported to remain in work, with reasonable adjustments made to their role. But less than a fifth (19%) of workers with mental health issues said they'd actually received such support.

The research found that line managers having knowledge of mental health problems improved their confidence in supporting others. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of workers who have experienced a mental health problem say that they would know how to have conversation with a colleague who was finding it hard to cope, compared with 60% of line managers who have not been through any issues.

Chris O’Sullivan, head of workplace mental health at the Mental Health Foundation, said employers should create an atmosphere where people can discuss their mental health concerns.

“We believe in workplaces that enable people to thrive, whatever their backstory, and for that to happen people need to feel safe being authentic and open at work,” he said. “We need to find ways for employers to promote and protect mental health across their businesses. A key way to do that is through encouraging and supporting those who have relevant experience to use that in their own development, and in providing support to others. Our research shows that valuing the insight of managers with lived experience could be an exciting way for employers to address mental health at work.”

Liz Walker, HR director of Unum UK, called on employers to address the stigma surrounding mental health. “Mental health has been increasingly on the agenda recently, but while businesses are starting to pay attention our research shows that there’s still a considerable gap between policies and the everyday experiences of employees,” she said. “There is no excuse to brush this under the carpet anymore; it’s time for all organisations and leaders to be more vocal about mental health stigma and take responsibility for improving mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.”