How much do line managers impact employees’ mental health?

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min read
May 2, 2023
January 18, 2024
The impact of line managers in employees mental health
In this article

According to a new survey, we spend more time with our managers and colleagues than with partners, families and friends, even in the era of hybrid working. It's perhaps no surprise that the survey found that managers have an equal influence on employees’ mental health as their partners and a greater influence than doctors and therapists.

The Workforce Institute at UKG survey with 3,400 people across 10 countries also uncovered 60% of employees say their job is the thing that affects their mental health the most. This shows how entwined work is with everyday life. Many people can’t leave it behind when they go home, especially now so many more people are working remotely. 

Employees prioritise mental health

In the survey, a whooping 81% of employees said they would prioritise good mental health over a high-paying job. This demonstrates the shift in the past few years, with many people choosing to find roles that give them the lives they want outside of work, rather than being driven solely by work at the expense of everything else. 

It is the shift that has fuelled the “Great Resignation”, where employees have quit their current jobs seeking fulfilment in roles they find more personally rewarding. It has also accelerated the move towards hybrid working, with people appreciating having greater flexibility and autonomy over how and when they work.

The influence of line managers

The role of the line manager has always been important. While the well-known adage “people don’t quit companies, they quit bosses” doesn’t quite tell the whole story, bad managers consistently come up in surveys as one of the top reasons for employees leaving their jobs. A survey conducted last year found 43% of respondents had left a job at some point in their career because of their manager.

If the relationship between line manager and employee becomes toxic, this seeps into every aspect of their role, infecting how they do their job, what they think about the company and their determination to do a good job. What the UKG survey shows is how deep this toxicity goes, adversely affecting employees’ mental health. This damage may not be simply fixed by leaving the manager behind; the impact has the potential to last for years.

What can line managers do to boost employees’ mental health?

In most organisations, the line manager is best placed to spot if an employee is struggling with their mental health. They are the ones who probably see or speak to them most and have sight of the work they are producing. However, knowing what action to take can be far from simple. It can be difficult and awkward to start a conversation on this topic. 

A recent survey by Wellbeing at Work found that 71% of line managers felt confident talking to employees about their mental health, which certainly suggests progress has been made to break the taboo around this topic but also means 29% don’t feel confident to address the issue.

To support managers, creating a format for a wellbeing check-in can take away this nervousness and underpin constructive, positive conversations where employees feel able to share their concerns and ask for help. 

What should a wellbeing check-in cover?

  • How the employee is feeling in general
  • How they are finding work
  • If they are finding any project or relationship difficult
  • If there is any extra support the line manager can give them
  • If there is anything worrying them outside of work
  • If there are any changes that could be made at work to ease any undue stress or burden

This should be a friendly conversation designed to put employees at ease. The format should be used as a guide, not a rigid script. Encourage managers to listen to what their employees are saying and if they think there is a mental health concern to try and find out as much as possible so appropriate help can be found.

What should managers ask in a monthly check-in?

Appraisd check-in template includes questions focused on objectives, wellbeing and hybrid working.


How to put employees at ease

  • Make it clear this is totally confidential and nothing will be shared further if they don’t want it to be
  • Reassure them that they will not be judged – this is a conversation to find out how you can help them bring their best selves to work
  • Pick a time and place which suits you both
  • Really listen to what they have to say and encourage them to disclose the full picture and all the factors that are contributing to the problem
  • Speak to your HR team to see what support your organisation offers employees. If there is a mental health issue, they can advise you of the best course of action in line with company and legal guidelines
  • Schedule follow up check-ins to monitor progress. Make sure the employee knows that you are there to help and will work with them to find a solution

Line managers have a difficult job. As well as their management responsibilities, they have their own to work complete and pressure from their own managers to maximise the performance of their team. Giving them as much help as possible to make sure their employees feel supported and able to ask for help when they need it, will make their lives a little bit easier and underpin a healthy working environment for all.

Wellbeing check-ins in action

Video game producer Maze Theory uses monthly wellbeing check-ins to touch base with employees and make sure there are no hidden issues. They are short chats which means line managers and employees find them easy to build into their schedules and stick to. 

The wellbeing check-ins are a simple and effective way to offer help and support to everyone in the business, allowing us to step in early and act if people are struggling,” <div class="author">says Nicola Howes, Business Operations Manager</div>
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