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Managers impact mental health as much as spouses

More than two thirds (69%) of employees said their manager impacts their mental health more than their doctor (51%) or therapist (41%), and the same as for a spouse or partner.

Research by software company UKG found that while nine in 10 (91%) HR and c-suite leaders thought working for their company had a positive effect on employees’ mental health, far fewer employees (64%) agreed.

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Over a third (35%) of employees said their manager failed to understand the impact they had on their team’s mental wellbeing.

A further 40% of employees were often or always stressed about work yet many (38%) said they rarely or never spoke to their manager about workload.

Alicia Nagar, head of people at Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, said managers desperately need training and support to build good, supportive relationships with their team members.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “Leaving your worries at the door before you start your workday is simply not possible.

“With most adults spending at least a third of their time at work, it’s no wonder managers have as much impact on a person’s mental health as their partner. With the stakes this high, employers cannot afford not to give the support and training their managers need to carry out their role effectively.”

Rebecca Taylor, HR business partner EMEA at UKG, said the results showed a need for HR to bring mental health and wellbeing into the core of their activities, as the pandemic and ensuing economic instability are continuing to affect employees’ mental health.

She said: “While some of the root causes of these pressures are outside of an employer’s control, there are still a number of actions HR and people managers can take to have a meaningful impact on the employee experience.”

Paying a liveable wage, relevant benefits, and good retirement and pension support was a good start, Taylor said.

She added: “Another important part of this is supporting employees with their purpose at work, and connecting them to their careers by providing opportunities for growth — and to regularly recognise and celebrate successes as they happen. 

“It’s also crucial that employees are given autonomy over their jobs. Employers should offer flexibility to ensure that work can fit around employees’ lives and any caregiving needs they may have.”

Giving managers the correct training can unlock these positive relationships, according to Nagar.

She said: “It is vital they get the training, tools and time to do the job of managing well. This includes having compassionate conversations about mental health. 

“Managers help create a sense of purpose and pride in our work and build inclusive team cultures where everyone can succeed. And when everyone thrives, organisations cannot help but succeed.”

MHFA England will launch a free toolkit for managers on 14 March to help empower managers to confidently start conversations with their teams about mental health.

The UKG's Workforce Institute surveyed 3,400 people across 10 nations in autumn 2022.