How to support Line Managers in dealing with mental health

May 20, 2011

According to the Annual Absence Survey from the Chartered Institute of Personnel that was published in October 2010, one-third of employers have reported an increase in mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.

The survey reported there was a particularly marked rise in reported mental health problems where employers were planning to make redundancies. This suggests that work-related factors play a major role in the development of mental health and efforts to address mental ill health at work should not be cut back when resources are tight.

Line Managers are not expected to have in-depth knowledge of mental health issues but ideally they should:-

  • Be clear about where their responsibilities lie with respect to managing and monitoring stress, and be aware of the link between stress and mental health;
  • Be sufficiently informed about mental health conditions, to challenge misconceptions and prejudice among their staff; and
  • Be confident about having ‘difficult’ conversations with employees who may be experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition or in the process of recovering.

Not all instances of mental health are triggered by work causes and Managers should be aware that it will not always be apparent why a particular employee is experiencing symptoms of mental ill health. Even where an illness is purely non-work related, Line Managers should know that employers still have a responsibility to make reasonable adjustments to support an employee in their role.

It is difficult for Line Managers to identify a mental health condition unless the employee tells them, and employees can understandably be reluctant to disclose this information to their Managers, as there is a perception that employees suffering from a mental health condition are deemed as a ‘risk’, unreliable or incapable of coping with their job.

It is important that employers foster a culture whereby their employees feel able to talk to their employer about any difficulties they are experiencing. This will allow Managers to recognise signs of a mental health condition and broach the topic when an employee seems unwell and also the Line Manager is less likely to discriminate against an employee with mental health issues.

Line Managers will deal with mental health related absences more effectively if they do not approach the issues from a position of fixed expectations or stereotypical beliefs. A basic awareness can remove the awkwardness and prevent Managers from ‘saying the wrong thing’ to the affected employee. For example, Managers should be aware that recovery times can vary as can treatments.

It is useful for Line Managers to know that a range of health professionals can potentially be involved in the recovery of a person with mental health conditions. Line Managers understanding of an employee’s situation will be restricted my medical confidentiality issues and what an employee has chosen to disclose to them.

Occupational Health Practitioners who deal with these sensitive issues on a routine basis are in an ideal position to educate and support Line Managers.

If you require further guidance on the above please contact us on the support line

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