The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has today encouraged businesses to place greater emphasis on mental health and wellbeing training for managers amid rising levels of stress in UK workplaces. 

The call follows the publication of the CIPD's annual survey, which reveals that nearly two-fifths of businesses (37%) have seen an increase in stress-related absence over the last year, with respondents indicating that heavy workloads and poor management style are to blame. 

The research, which involved over 1,000 people professionals, covering 3.2 million employees across the UK, also found that:

  • More than four-fifths (83%) of respondents have observed ‘presenteeism’ (going to work when ill) in their organisation and a quarter (25%) say the problem has got worse since the previous year
  • Nearly two-thirds (63%) have observed 'leaveism' (such as using holiday leave to work) in their organisation. More than half (55%) say their organisation hasn’t taken any steps to address the issue
  • Fewer than a third (32%) say that senior leaders encourage a focus on mental wellbeing through their actions and behaviours
  • Only 50% of managers have undergone training to support their staff to better manage stress
  • Out of the minority of organisations taking action to tackle leaveism and presenteeism, only 37% of managers have been trained to spot the warning signs of either.

The CIPD warns that the findings represent 'a serious failure by senior leaders given that mangers play a vital front-line role in supporting staff with their health and wellbeing'. It advises that managers are best placed to spot the early warning signs if someone is struggling to cope and should be the first port of call if an employee wants to discuss a health condition.

Whilst the research highlights clear room for improvement, it also suggests that some progress has been made. Compared to 2018's survey, more respondents were found to be utilising training for managers aimed at supporting staff mental health (32% vs. 40%), training for staff aimed at building personal resilience (26% vs. 32%) and mental health first aid training (19% vs. 31%).

Rachel Suff, senior employment relations adviser at the CIPD, said:

"Managers should be helping to alleviate stress among their staff, not contributing to it. But too many managers are being set up to fail because they haven’t received adequate training, despite them often being the first person employees will turn to when they have a problem.

"It's vital that businesses recognise the importance of well-being initiatives and training for line managers. Senior leaders should work with their HR experts to ensure there is sufficient training and an overall culture of well-being in their workplaces." 

You can find more information on the role of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England training in a 'whole organisation' approach to workplace mental health in our recently published guidance.