New research analysis released today by Unum and the Mental Health Foundation to mark Mental Health Awareness Week, reveals stark differences between line managers’ understanding of mental health problems in the workplace and the challenges faced by employees who are experiencing distress at work. 

Line manager perception vs the reality of mental health support

According to the survey by YouGov, only half of line managers feel confident that they could recognise signs that a member of their team was having problems coping and only a third of workers who have experienced a mental health problem in the past five years have felt well supported by their manager.

The research shows that employees place a much greater importance on good line management relationships and a zero tolerance approach to stigma than line managers, with nearly two thirds (64 per cent) of workers who have experienced a mental health problem calling for a zero tolerance approach to mental health stigma in the workplace, compared to only 44 per cent of line managers.

Worryingly, line managers routinely overestimate how well their workplace supports mental health and wellbeing. Nearly half (45 per cent) of managers surveyed think that an employee experiencing a mental health problem would be supported to remain in work by making reasonable adjustments to their role, but less than a fifth of workers who have experienced distress say they have actually received such support.

The value in lived experience of mental health problems

The research also found that a lived experience of a mental health problem could be a valuable resource in the workplace, as these workers feel much better prepared to be able to support colleagues who are experiencing distress. Nearly three quarters (73 per cent) of workers who have experienced a mental health problem say that they would know how to have conversation with a colleague who was finding it hard to cope, compared to just 60% of line managers who have not experienced any mental health problems.

Overall, 58% of respondents who had a mental health problem in the past five years had chosen to disclose this to an employer during this time, with just over half (54%) reporting a mainly positive experience, but 15 per cent reporting a mainly negative experience, such as being discriminated against.

Chris O’Sullivan, Head of Workplace Mental Health, Mental Health Foundation said:

“This Mental Health Awareness Week, our research shows an increased awareness of mental health across the UK, with more people reporting experience of mental health problems. We believe in workplaces that enable people to thrive, whatever their back story, and for that to happen people need to feel safe being authentic and open at work. We need to find ways for employers to promote and protect mental health across their businesses. A key way to do that is through encouraging and supporting those who have relevant experience to use that in their own development, and in providing support to others. Our research shows that valuing the insight of managers with lived experience could be an exciting way for employers to address mental health at work.”






Rebecca joined the HRreview editorial team in January 2016. After graduating from the University of Sheffield Hallam in 2013 with a BA in English Literature, Rebecca has spent five years working in print and online journalism in Manchester and London. In the past she has been part of the editorial teams at Sleeper and Dezeen and has founded her own arts collective.