Managers more likely to be diagnosed with a mental health condition than other employees

Calls for more support and training for business leaders who risk becoming the ‘squeezed middle’

Managers are more likely to have a diagnosed mental health problem than any other group of employees, a survey has found, as experts warned senior staff needed the time and the correct training to support colleagues’ wellbeing.

The poll of employees, conducted by Ipsos MORI for Teladoc Health, found 31 per cent of managers had at some point received a formal mental health-related diagnosis from a healthcare professional, compared to just 26 per cent of non-managers.

Experts said the findings highlighted the need for better training, recommending leaders be taught how to talk about mental health in the workplace and managers empowered to hold meaningful discussions with their employees.

Half (50 per cent) of respondents said a senior member of staff talking openly about their mental health would encourage them to feel more comfortable about their own mental health.

Rachel Suff, employee relations adviser at the CIPD, said the findings chimed with previous research suggesting that “middle managers have really come out as the squeezed middle”. 

Suff said: “Managers have a lot more responsibility on them, in terms of expectations that employers are putting on them for managing health and wellbeing, including mental health. But there's a really big gap between that expectation and the investment in their training.

“If you get somebody disclosing [mental health issues] to you, and you haven't been trained to deal with mental health issues, that could be really nerve-wracking.”

Suff added that the intensity of work was so great for many employees that, without the correct training or sufficient time, supporting other people's mental health “could definitely affect your own mental health”.

In the Ipsos MORI survey – which polled 3,894 people internationally, including 1,000 UK workers – while more than one in four (27 per cent) respondents said they had a formal diagnosis, the overwhelming majority of those with a diagnosis (82 per cent) had never told their workplace management about it.

Younger workers were particularly affected by mental health problems, with nearly two-thirds (61 per cent) of 18 to 25-year-olds reporting mental ill-health symptoms had affected their job performance, compared to 38 per cent of all other age groups.

And 40 per cent of employees of all ages said they believed stigma about poor mental health still existed in their workplace, with 10 per cent saying confiding in someone at work about their mental health challenge could result in losing their job. 

Emma Mamo, head of workplace wellbeing at mental health charity Mind, said employers were increasingly striving to create a positive culture where staff felt able to talk openly about issues like stress and mental health. But she added: “It’s not just about talking – staff need to know that if they do disclose, they’ll be met with support and understanding, rather than facing stigma and discrimination.”

Mamo said it was “worrying” that so few employees felt comfortable talking to their managers about their mental health and said it was “important we try to find out and overcome some of the barriers to having those conversations. 

“Smart employers recognise the benefits of creating mentally healthy workplaces for all their staff – including those with mental health problems. Those who do put in place wellbeing interventions are more likely to see staff who are engaged, loyal and less likely to need time off sick.”