Essential webinar series for employers: Mental health and the role of the manager

As part of our series of webinars to support our clients, on 8 October 2020 we hosted a webinar looking at mental health and how organisations can best support their employees and managers.


We are all aware of the impact which this year has had on employee mental health and, in turn, on the managers who are often having to support their teams remotely.  In response, we ran a session focused on mental health and the role of the manager, explaining the legal framework in which managers have to operate and providing practical advice on how they can support their teams. The key takeaway points are set out below:

Understanding mental ill health

  • Managers need to be able to recognise the signs of mental distress within their team. These can be either physical, psychological or behavioural symptoms.
  • The best way to do this is by having regular check in sessions with team members, asking how they are and giving space for them to talk.
  • The key to managing mental ill health is to understand the cause so that appropriate support can be put in place.
  • A good way to encourage dialogue is for managers to share their own experiences.
  • Once the issue is known, managers can agree an informal contract with the employee on what the support will look like, what are likely triggers and signals for when additional help is needed.
  • A useful tool to use is the MIND Wellness Action Plan - Wellness action plan

Understanding the law

  • Mental health can be a disability under the Equality Act 2010.
  • If so, the employer can be at risk of discrimination claims whether direct, indirect, arising from, harassment or a failure to make reasonable adjustments.
  • When managing an employee with mental health issues, consider whether there are any adjustments which can reasonably be made, whether adjustments to working practices or provision of aids to alleviate any disadvantage suffered by the employee.

Impact of COVID-19

  • Vast majority of employees “stepped up” in very difficult circumstances, while juggling childcare and home schooling. Others stepped up while having pressures of living on their own or worrying about elderly family members who may live far away - or living in house shares with a lack of space and privacy to work and live together.
  • Everyone’s circumstances have been different during the last 6 months – one size does not and will not fit all. 
  • Change that would ordinarily have taken years to achieve was done very quickly.
  • The businesses that will accelerate successfully out of Covid will be those where managers are able to demonstrate leadership and focus on outputs, not presenteeism.
  • Even where managers have been trained in the past, it is worth considering whether it is time to revisit this for the Covid and post-Covid world.

Practical tips

  • Engage with employees, especially those who have been out of the business on furlough.
  • Explain any changes you have made so employees understand what is different and engage them in the design of new workplaces / ways of working.
  • Make sure there are regular conversations.
  • Share different employee perspectives to encourage understanding, especially where there may be division between homeworkers / those in work or those furloughed / those who have worked throughout.
  • Signpost staff to policies / support available to them.
  • Obtain advice from medical experts / occupational health.

Examples of support within organisations

  • Employee assistance programmes
  • Mental Health First Aiders
  • Wellbeing policy
  • Wellbeing channel on Microsoft teams for sharing stories, information and resources
  • Stress risk assessment
  • Sabbaticals / unpaid leave / career breaks
  • Story sharing
  • Virtual coffee mornings
  • Wellbeing newsletters
  • Use of third party apps such as Headspace, Calm, Woebot

Useful resources

Mental health support/information
Mind Info Line 
(England and Wales)
Tel: 0300 123 3393
Email: [email protected]
Text: 86463

Tel: 116 123

Housing Support
Tel: 08008 800 444 (England/Scotland)
Tel: 0345 075 5005 (Wales)

Cruse Bereavement Care
Tel: 0808 808 1677

Legal Issues
Citizens Advice Bureau

SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health)
Tel: 0344 800 0550

Financial Support
Tel: 0800 138 1111
Text: 86463

National Debtline
Tel: 0808 808 4000


This information is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. Please contact us for specific advice on your circumstances. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024.


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