A contemporary guide for managers to improve support for those experiencing stress and mental health issues at work has today been launched by mental health charity Mind and CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development.

"Where managers are able to spot the warning signs of poor mental health among employees, the level of reported common mental health conditions is significantly lower."

How people are treated and managed on a day-to-day basis is central to their mental well-being and engagement, as well as the level of trust in the employment relationship. CIPD research finds that management style is the second main cause of work-related stress, showing that how managers go about their role has a direct impact on people’s mental well-being.

Today's updated guidance follows recent CIPD research which found that less than one in three organisations (32%) train line managers to support staff with poor mental health. Mental ill health is now the primary cause of long-term sickness absence for over one in five (22%) UK organisations. A recent Mind survey of over 44,000 employees also found that only two in five (42%) felt their manager would be able to spot the signs they were struggling with poor mental health.

Stress risk assessments

Staff surveys should be used to assess stress risks. Self-assessment tools are also advocated, include one that requires input from the manager’s staff (180-degree) and one that allows input from staff, senior managers and peers (360-degree). These emphasise the importance of managers:

• creating realistic deadlines
• clearly communicating job objectives
• dealing with problems as soon as they arise
• giving employees the right level of job responsibility
• encouraging participation from the whole team
• regularly asking team members, ‘how are you?’
• acting as a mediator in conflict situations.

Good practice in recruitment and induction

Good mental health supports start right at the beginning and the guide has a template for HR and line managers to follow from job offer stage. Health questionnaires should be delivered post-offer.

An effective induction for all employees contains the following elements:

• one-to-one meeting(s) between the new starter and their line manager
• orientation (physical) – describing where the facilities are
• orientation (organisational) – showing how the employee fits into the team and how their role fits with the organisation’s strategy and goals
• an awareness of other functions within the organisation and how the employee fits within that
• meeting with key senior employees (either face to face or through the use of
• health and safety information – this is a legal requirement
• explanation of terms and conditions
• details of the organisation’s history, its products and services, its culture and values
• a clear outline of the job/role requirements and expectations
• details of any health and well-being initiatives provided by the employer
• information about ways of working, for example flexitime, homeworking.


CIPD research found that over half of poor employee mental health is caused by
a combination of issues at work and at home (CIPD 2016). A management approach that solely views poor mental health as a medical problem is therefore unlikely to succeed.

A key part of spotting the signs is managers being alert to the potential workplace triggers for distress, such as:
• people working long hours and not taking breaks
• unrealistic expectations or deadlines
• high-pressure environments
• unmanageable workloads or lack of control over work
• negative relationships or poor communication
• an unsupportive workplace culture or lack of management support
• job insecurity or poor change management
• high-risk roles
• lone working.

External triggers may also have an effect on an employee’s mental health and well-being, such as:
• childhood abuse, trauma or neglect
• social isolation or loneliness
• experiencing discrimination and/or stigma
• social disadvantage, poverty or debt
• bereavement
• severe or long-term stress
• having a long-term physical health condition
• unemployment or losing your job
• homelessness or poor housing
• being a long-term carer for someone
• drug and alcohol misuse
• domestic violence, bullying or other abuse as an adult
• significant trauma as an adult, such as military combat, being involved in a serious
incident in which someone fears for their life, or being the victim of a violent crime
• physical causes – for example, a head injury or a neurological condition such as epilepsy can have an impact on your behaviour and mood. (It’s important to rule out potential physical causes before seeking further treatment for a mental health problem.)

Thriving at work 

The resource follows the Government-commissioned ‘Thriving at Work’ employment review, which made recommendations to employers about how to better support people with mental health problems to stay - and thrive - in their jobs. Published in October 2017, the independent report found a need for workplaces to improve the disclosure process, and called on employers to create an open culture where staff feel able to talk about mental health. Crucial to creating this culture is equipping managers with the skills and tools to sensitively and confidently start those conversations.

This free guide will give people managers the information, resources and tools they need to effectively and confidently support employee mental health at work. Being able to spot the warning signs of poor mental health and offer the right support early on can have a significant impact. Indeed, CIPD research finds that, where managers are able to spot the warning signs of poor mental health among employees, the level of reported common mental health conditions is significantly lower.


“Mental health is still the elephant in the room in most workplaces, and a culture of silence can have a damaging impact on a business as well as individuals," said Rachel Suff, Senior Employment Relations Adviser at the CIPD. "This can include an escalation of someone’s condition as well as higher levels of sickness absence, presenteeism, turnover, conflict, and disengagement. There’s also the risk of potential legal action from employees who feel discriminated against."

"The role of line managers in employee well-being is vital. They are often the first port of call for someone needing help, and are most likely to see warning signs of poor mental health among employees. With the right capabilities and tools in place, they will have the ability and confidence to have sensitive conversations, intervene when needed, and signpost to the right support when needed. The positive impact that this can have on people’s well-being is enormous, but the business will also reap the benefits of happier, healthier, more engaged and productive employees."

Emma Mamo, Head of Workplace Wellbeing at Mind, added: “Our research finds that almost one in two workers reported they had experienced poor mental health - such as stress, low mood, and anxiety - while working at their current organisation. Given how much of our lives are spent at work, and how common poor mental health is, it’s really important that our employers and managers take an active role in helping us keep well and supporting us when we need it."

“Employers are increasingly taking steps to promote good well-being at work. But we know that too often, employees still don’t feel able to talk about issues such as stress, anxiety or depression, fearing they’ll be discriminated against, or overlooked for promotion. Equally, managers often shy away from the subject, worried about saying or doing the wrong thing. But staying silent and doing nothing can make things worse. We’ve long been calling on employers to create an open culture and remove the stigma surrounding mental health. We hope this improved guide will encourage managers to start honest conversations with employees when they need extra support.”

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