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Managers ‘out of their depth’ with employee mental health concerns

Managers are struggling to support their teams’ mental health concerns amid growing cost of living concerns.

A third (33%) of managers in the UK reported feeling out of their depth when supporting teammates through mental health issues, data from Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA) has revealed.

Three quarters (74%) of managers were concerned about their teams’ mental health due to the cost of living crisis.

Simon Blake, chief executive of MHFA, said this was leading to a cross-level crisis in mental health support.

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He told HR magazine: “Managers play a crucial role in creating working environments that allow people to feel seen, heard and valued. However, people management is a role that often isn’t invested in enough. 

“Managers need the correct training, time and tools to support their teams and ultimately contribute to an employee’s and ultimately an organisation’s success.”

Younger managers were particularly likely to feel overwhelmed, with nearly half (45%) saying they felt under-equipped to help teammates who were struggling.

Further data from employee assistance provider Health Assured found a 100% increase in high-risk calls in January 2023 compared with January 2022, and had seen work-related calls increase by 91% between January 2023 and December 2022 alone.

Kayleigh Frost, head of clinical services at Health Assured, said that training mental health first aiders, and providing emotional intelligence training to managers could be a great first step towards helping employees.

She told HR magazine: “Doing so will also support managers to deal with issues confidently and effectively, which in turn will benefit the employees under their care and minimise their own stress and anxiety about not knowing how to manage concerns. 

“For younger managers in particular, it can be even more challenging to know how to handle these circumstances. Trying to juggle tasks, manage a team and meet targets is never an easy task, especially if an employee is struggling. 

“Do you take a direct approach to mental health, or give individuals space to work through their issues? If you’ve never dealt with anything like this before, it can be difficult to navigate for the first time.”

While experience can help younger managers handle matters sensitively, it is not all-important, according to Blake.

He said: “It’s a combination of training, lived experience, aptitude and designated management time that will enable people, no matter their age, to be good at management. 

“Providing robust and well thought-out training to everyone who has people management responsibilities will ensure a consistent approach to mental health and wellbeing across teams and departments, promoting healthy performance throughout the whole organisation.”

Recalling his own early days of management – both successes and failings – he added that he felt every manager has the potential to manage well.

He said: “I’ve seen a shift in attitudes around mental health and wellbeing – we must harness this to keep smashing the stigma around mental health. 

“However, we can’t do that unless we sort out the core problem of not empowering our managers to excel in their role on purpose, rather than falling into a management position by accident and without support.”