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How managers experience situations involving employee mental ill-health

Angela Martin (Tasmanian School of Business and Economics, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia)
Megan Woods (Tasmanian School of Business and Economics, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia)
Sarah Dawkins (Tasmanian School of Business and Economics, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia)

International Journal of Workplace Health Management

ISSN: 1753-8351

Article publication date: 5 November 2018

Issue publication date: 13 November 2018

Abstract

Purpose

Mental health conditions such as depression are prevalent in working adults, costly to employers, and have implications for legal liability and corporate social responsibility. Managers play an important role in determining how employees’ and organizations’ interests are reconciled in situations involving employee mental ill-health issues. The purpose of this paper is to explore these situations from the perspective of managers in order to develop theory and inform practice in workplace mental health promotion.

Design/methodology/approach

Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 24 Australian managers who had supervised an employee with a mental health issue. Interview transcripts were content analyzed to explore themes in managers’ experiences.

Findings

Managing an employee with a mental health issue involves becoming aware of the issue, taking action to understand the situation and develop an action response, implementing the response and managing the ongoing situation. Each of these tasks had a range of positive and negative aspects to them, e.g., managing the situation can be experienced as both a source of stress for the manager but also as an opportunity to develop greater management skills.

Practical implications

Understanding line managers’ experiences is critical to successful implementation of HR policies regarding employee health and well-being. HR strategies for dealing with employee mental health issues need to consider implementation support for managers, including promotion of guiding policies, training, emotional support and creating a psychosocial safety climate in their work units or teams.

Originality/value

The insights gained from this study contribute to the body of knowledge regarding psychosocial safety climate, an emergent theoretical framework concerned with values, attitudes and philosophy regarding worker psychological health. The findings also have important implications for strategic human resource management approaches to managing mental health in the workplace.

Keywords

Citation

Martin, A., Woods, M. and Dawkins, S. (2018), "How managers experience situations involving employee mental ill-health", International Journal of Workplace Health Management, Vol. 11 No. 6, pp. 442-463. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJWHM-09-2017-0069

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited