mental health spelt out in scrabble tiles

People Management

Half of employees with poor managers say work negatively impacts their mental health, research finds

CIPD calls on businesses to ‘think carefully’ about how they recruit and develop management at all levels of the organisation- by Arunth Sriganthan 4 May 2023

Half (50 per cent) of workers whose managers are rated in the bottom quartile on the manager quality index say work has a negative impact on their mental health, a study has found.

In the survey of 6,000 workers by the CIPD, just three in 10 (27 per cent) employees with bottom quartile rated line managers said they were satisfied with their jobs, compared to 88 per cent of those with the highest rated managers.

The research, featured in The importance of people management report, highlighted the need for “better people manager selection and development” to give managers the skills they need to lead more effectively. 

Sam Leonard-Rawlings, head of learning and organisational development at Turning Point, said the responsibility for managing people should not just lie within the HR department and must go across the board. “I think the accountability for better people managers should go across the business and that great leadership and management shouldn’t just be the responsibility of the people team,” he said. 
He added that poor practice would only change if there was a “movement in the organisation to get behind it” and warned of a “disconnect” between training and employee experience if this was not achieved. 
However, Dan Phipps, HR solutions director at AdviserPlus, said it was HR’s role to “develop and embed” people strategies that help managers spot the signs of declining mental health and respond effectively. 

He also said HR must ensure managers were “effectively trained and upskilled to be able engage their employees in a way that maintains positive mental health”.

But Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, said that, ultimately, employers needed to “think carefully” about how they recruited and developed managers “at all levels”.

According to the study, two fifths (38 per cent) of employees with bottom-quartile line managers were prepared to volunteer for duties outside of their job requirements, compared to three quarters (74 per cent) of workers with top-quartile line managers.

Meanwhile, when asked about the relative importance of line manager behaviours in determining the quality of relationship with a line manager, respondents flagged personal qualities including giving them respect (16 per cent) and providing fair treatment (15 per cent) as the main factors.

Kate Underwood, managing director at Kate Underwood HR and Training, said managers can create a “toxic work environment” leading to “stress, anxiety and even depression” among employees through a lack of support and communication. “Moreover, when line managers fail to provide clear expectations or feedback to employees, it can lead to confusion, disengagement and a general lack of motivation among employees,” she said.

“Similarly, when line managers are overly demanding or fail to recognise and appreciate the hard work and contributions of their employees, it can result in a lack of job satisfaction, burnout and high turnover rates.”

Additionally, more than a third (39 per cent) of workers with the lowest-rated managers said they were under “excessive pressure at work” often or always, compared to just 14 per cent of those with the best managers.

Jenni Miller, head of operations at Inspirational Coaching, said L&D could equip managers to effectively lead and support their teams through soft skills training. “Managers need to be given training on recognising when to step in as well as developing the communication skills needed to enable supportive conversations around mental health in the workplace,” said Miller, adding that a well-structured training programme would help to develop new and existing leaders.