What every manager needs to know about mental health: a glimpse into the basics of achieving well-being at work by Karolina Silva

Mental health at work should matter to all of us. It shouldn’t be seen as something that stops when we leave our home to go to work. It, unfortunately, does not work like that, because our circumstances are comprised of every aspect of our lives (work, family, society). Apparently, it is still somewhat taboo to talk about mental health despite the fact that it is being addressed more and more. Maybe this is because it might reflect our own drawbacks or, even worse, because it could compromise our future as employees if we dare mention anything related to it at work.

The thing is, mental health is a reality we cannot avoid or run away from. Instead, we must accept it and take care of it in the best way possible. The question is: how? 

First of all, we can start by understanding that mental health goes hand in hand with physical health. There is no health without mental health and therefore, well-being. Another factor to take into account is that we can estimate that people spend half of their lives at work. Work is almost like a person’s second home, isn’t it? Consequently, when managing staff and also when a healthy work environment is a priority, it is essential to bear in mind that people cannot disconnect themselves from their life at work because work is part of their life.

There are a range of factors that can affect employees’ performance that are out of their control, such as bereavement, financial debts, social issues, etc., and managers are expected to know how to support their staff when they undergo these issues. Otherwise, the wrong managerial approach will have a negative impact on the work environment, the staff and also their productivity. Moreover, it is worth noting that a range of factors within the workplace can also add to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, just to name a few. For example, micromanagement and pressure tactics - as a way of accepted leadership styles to motivate employees- definitely stray far away from achieving a healthy environment and general well-being at work.

On the other hand, improving mental health at work is a very wide and complicated topic, where everybody is involved. However, employers must at least be mindful of the importance of aligning culture and organizational values to promote a healthy work environment. Managers are in charge of looking after their staff in order to assure productivity, performance and high-quality delivery based on the organizational values, so what happens when these values and culture are not really contributing to a good mental health and general well-being at work? Can managers do something about it?

The answer is yes, and here are just some of the fundamentals that every manager needs to know about mental health:


  1. People work and perform better in a healthy work environment. The relationship is very simple to understand: good mental health at work and high well-being increases employees’ performance and therefore their productivity. A healthy work environment is a safe place where employees are valued, respected and not forced to do things that go against their own values and well-being. Managers are responsible for ensuring that the organizational culture is not diverting from the well-being of employees. If they ever feel that they cannot do something to help improve this because they are not the founders or owners of the company, they can surely communicate their concerns and address any decreased performance to HR, making sure to highlight the possible negative aspects they have observed about the organizational culture that are affecting their staff and propose ideas to improve this.
  2. Mental health is affected by stress. This is a real fact. It is well known and proved by numerous studies that stress triggers mental health problems. One way to help your staff is by re-organising the department schedule basing it on priorities and goals. Discuss with your team what they think about the goals they have to achieve in the department. Are they realistic goals? What measures are taken to reach such goals? What is it more important for the department, the results or the means? Bear in mind that, heavy workload, extra hours, emails and calls after work reinforce a culture of no boundaries and it will affect the employee’s mental health. As a manager, it is essential to guide your staff to strengthen values. By respecting their time off work, you are showing them organisation, responsibility and professionalism. They will feel they are working in a place where they are respected and also that they have to respect. Furthermore, pay attention to drastic changes in their life like a loss in their family, if a team member moves houses, if someone or their spouse is expecting a child, etc. Situations like these are very likely to temporarily affect their performance and it is important to understand that it is alright for them to go through these experiences. Try to come up with a solution to help them undergo some of the changes like, for example, taking a couple of days to move and advising them about paternity/maternity leave advantages. In this case, it can also be useful to talk about possible concerns regarding career progression. They will thank you for that and will feel more engaged, appreciated and feel a sense of integrity with the company.
  3. Depression and anxiety are real and can affect your managerial style too. Managers are not the team’s counselor, but they have to be aware of changes that their employees go through. When employees are depressed they are more likely to make mistakes, to have low concentration and appear to be disengaged. Low performance does not necessarily mean lack of skills. If you as a manager notice this, talk to them first, off the record, person to person, establishing support before following formal performance management processes. If the situation is indeed related to their mood, do not see it as a problem. Let them know that it is human to have those ups and downs, and that together you will come up with a solution. If the problem is much deeper than you can handle, contact HR for supervision. They will advise you about what to do next.
  4. Avoid using only performance-based approaches to address their productiveness. Instead, consider health-related solutions.
  5. There are many other mental diagnoses than just anxiety and depression. These two are not the only ones. Managers are not supposed to know all of them; they just need to be aware that there are a plethora of mental conditions, including learning disabilities, that not all of them disable people from working and performing properly. Therefore, it is necessary that, as a manager, you keep an open mind and always seek the best possible guidance for issues that are out of your league.


Finally, never suggest a mental condition or encourage a member of your team to talk openly about his/her current situation. Only specialists should arrive at these conclusions and managers should always seek help when this is needed. However, as a manager you can always work on your emotional intelligence; it will help clarify how you approach your staff. And never forget, managers can also suffer from any of the ailments that were mentioned, and if this is your situation as a manager, seek advice and communicate your concerns to your superiors.

 “EI is the key to both personal and professional success”


This article is brought to you exclusively by the Business Transformation Network.


Karolina Silva is a Psychologist with a MSc in Occupational and Business Psychology.

Experience in Counseling and HR, mainly in recruitment, career coaching, performance and organisational environment. Well-being and Mental Health promoter at work.