Why it’s important managers understand mental ill health

18th January 2022



The overall success of your organisation will be influenced by the health of your employees. Overall health requires and includes good mental health. Understanding the impact of mental illness and how it affects people is vital for any manager to successfully support and lead their teams.


Mental health is complex and mental health issues are a normal part of life. Signs and symptoms vary. Plus, the tension between providing effective support for employees whilst also meeting business needs can be challenging.

    Understanding the impact of mental illness on your organisation

    Numerous surveys have evidenced the increase in mental illness in recent years, not just because of the pandemic. We know that anxiety and depression has increased, linked to high stress levels. There are also numerous other mental illnesses that affect people.

            Why is it vital a manager is aware if an employee is unwell?

            As a manager if you have someone in your team diagnosed with a mental illness it will be affecting their work. Therefore, it is important to understand what the employee is experiencing and how to support them.

            Alongside this a manager will want and need their team to perform and deliver to the highest level possible. If one of their team is unwell it may affect this including:

            • Reduced performance and output
            • Increased error rates
            • Missed deadlines and targets
            • More accidents and incidents
            • Poorer problem-solving skills
            • Reduced creativity
            • Poor customer service
            • Legal risk under the Equality Act 2010 if an employee experiences discrimination, as well as a duty of care under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974

            How can managers increase their awareness?

            • Understand the main signs and symptoms of mental ill health.
            • Have the skills to hold supportive conversations with members of their team.
            • Implement appropriate help so people stay at work and do their best work.

            Understand the main signs and symptoms of mental ill health

            • There are extensive resources available online to help learning. Be sure that only credible sites are used for example the NHS
            • Use your Employee Assistance Programme if your organisation has one.
            • Have people in the organisation managers can speak to for guidance
            • Train your managers. It is not about diagnosing, that is for the clinical experts. It is about recognising the behaviours and symptoms that could indicate someone is unwell. The MHFA one day course is ideal for equipping managers.

            Develop the skills to hold supportive conversations

            • Excellent communication skills are key for all managers.  In supporting mental health, the vital one is listening. Specifically, non-judgemental listening.

            • Take time to listen and understand what the employee is experiencing. It is not about diagnosing or advising. Work together to make adjustments that support the employee and meets busines needs. Sometimes this can be challenging and require a shared desire to get the best outcome.

            • Remember the employee will be doing the best they can with the resources they have. If they are unwell, we need to recognise symptoms may affect how they respond and behave. For example, anxiety can cause fear of change, resulting in someone who is usually open to new ways of doing things being resistant to ideas.

            • Again, training courses like the MHFA Champion help equip managers with the skills to have these conversations.

            Implement the most appropriate help to enable people to stay at work and do their best work.

            • The type and size of the organisation will influence what adjustments are feasible. It’s important a situation is approached with the aim of finding a solution. Think creatively. Often it is beneficial to recovery to remain in work.  It is also usually cost effective compared to the cost of sick pay and covering their work.

            • Increasing wider understanding of mental illness is beneficial to enable colleagues to support each other as well as recognise symptoms in themselves and others. This might include a short awareness course or resources provided through an EAP.

            • Remember equality doesn’t mean treating everyone the same. It means treating people so they can be in a place equal to others which may require adjustments to how someone works.

            • Crucially, supporting mental illness is not about one conversation and then moving on. Whilst some mental illness is short term, it can last longer. It is vital managers check in with employees regularly to review support.

            It should be remembered that managers are people too and will benefit from the same support from their managers.

            Outcomes of increased awareness

            • General awareness and understanding of mental illness reduces the stigma and enables employees to be open when they are finding things difficult

            • Enhanced reputation as an employer if employees are well looked after. 

            • Retention of staff, avoiding the loss of talent and the cost of recruiting and replacing people

            • Appropriate support leads to sustaining performance with the associated business benefits

                    Contact us for details

                    Supporting mental illness is both the right thing to do, a legal requirement, and necessary from an organisational perspective. Involving all managers is vital. To learn more about how to achieve this within your organisation please call us on 01202 612 326 or get in touch.


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