Line managers: The emotional labour of managing workplace mental health issues

ERC Insight paper

Associated Themes
  • Mental Health
  • Productivity and performance

Many employers rely on untrained managers to deal with mental health issues in their employees. This study, based on twenty-two interviews with line managers in UK firms, asks how these individuals experience the day-to-day management of workplace mental health issues. Given the inexorable rise in the incidence of mental ill-health during the pandemic, this is highly topical research.
Three themes related to the way that line managers experience managing others with mental health issues emerge:

1. Managers feel strong expectations about the way in which they should manage mental health issues. 
2. Managers talk about feeling inadequate and unprepared in the face of mental health issues. 
3. Managers express the view that they are unsupported by their organisations when it comes to the management of workplace mental health issues. 

Our findings suggest that line managers engage in significant emotional labour as they manage others with mental health issues, and that employers should acknowledge the potential emotional impacts, which may include stress, burnout and alienation.