How important are managers for employee wellbeing?

18 February 2020

You might like many things about your job, but if you have a manager who doesn’t support you or help you to develop, the chances are you may not be satisfied at work. Having a good manger isn’t only important in terms of job satisfaction, though – it can also influence your emotional outlook. That’s what the recent Bupa Workplace Wellbeing Census, a survey of more than 4,000 employees, found across several different industries.

What did the Census find about the role of managers?

The Census results showed that:

  • Nearly a quarter (23%) of workers said that better support from their line manager would positively affect their wellbeing.
  • Quarter (25%) said their line manager had a positive effect on their wellbeing.
  • 19% said their line manager had a negative effect on their wellbeing.

The research also found that a supportive manger can be the difference between an employee opening up about a mental health issue or keeping it to themselves. Most employees who did talk to their manager about their wellbeing (71%) said their manager being approachable was a main reason they felt able to. Meanwhile, for those who didn’t feel comfortable talking about a wellbeing issue, nearly half (48%) said it was because they didn’t want to be judged at work. The findings taken together seem to suggest that fostering a culture where people feel able to be themselves and open up is key to staff feeling supported by their managers.1

Managers might do this through:

  • touching base with their team members more regularly, and giving them time and space to talk about anything causing them stress2 – a Wellness Action Plan may be a helpful tool for discussions
  • leading by example and opening up about their own vulnerabilities3
  • embedding a culture where everyone feels valued and important, and therefore able to talk frankly to colleagues about how they really feel2
  • checking in on their own behaviours – for example, if a manager never takes their full lunch break, other staff may feel they have to do the same2

More mental health training for managers

One respondent to the Census hit upon a key issue when they commented that: “I don’t feel my manager has been adequately trained to know how to deal with mental health issues.” Managers themselves need training and support so that they feel confident spotting signs of distress and dealing with problems. Such training is available from organisations such as Mind , Rethink Mental Illness and Mental Health First Aid England

Another way that managers can upskill themselves in being more prepared to give mental health support is through learning more about different mental health conditions, and how they might affect people at work. Bupa’s workplace mental health hub is a good place to start and has ideas about what your organisation could do to improve mental health.

It’s important to note that no-one is expecting managers to act as the equivalent of trained counsellors. But with enough understanding of mental health issues, their organisation’s policies and the avenues available to support employees, managers can be equipped to give the right practical and emotional help when it’s needed.

To find out more about the findings and recommendations above, read the Bupa Workplace Wellbeing Census.


1. Bupa Workplace Wellbeing Census, November 2019

2. Chartered Institute of Personnel Development. People Managers’ Guide to Mental Health. (PDF, 1.1MB), published September 2018

3. Greenwood K, Bapat V and Maughan M. People want their employers to talk about mental health. Harvard Business Review., last updated November 2019

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