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How much impact do leaders and managers have on team mental health? Answer: A LOT

During this Mental Health Awareness Month, I’ve been thinking about the impact that managers and leaders have on the mental health of team members. So did UKG Workforce Institute when they studied 3,400 employees in 10 countries for their 2023 report Mental Health at Work: Managers and Money. They found support for what many of us already feel, that managers actually do have an outsized impact, for good or bad. While that’s a lot of pressure on current and aspiring managers, thankfully there are practices that can support team mental health. In this blog we highlight three important areas: 1) foster psychological safety, 2) avoid overwork and burnout, and 3) provide and promote supportive benefits.

    1. Foster a psychologically safe environment to discuss chronic mental health challenges as well as periodic stressors and strains. Schedule regular check-ins with team members that include time to discuss challenges and how you and the organization can help. The American Psychological Association outlines what team members see and can do in a psychologically safe environment:
      • admit and discuss mistakes,
      • openly address problems and tough issues,
      • seek help and feedback,
      • trust that no one on the team is out to get them, and
      • trust that they are a valued member of the team.
    1. Monitor for manageable workloads to prevent overwork and burnout. Establishing a psychologically safe team culture with regular check-ins is essential to enable a manager to spot overwork. In her HBR article How to Fix Your Company’s Culture of Overwork, Melissa Clark outlines steps that leaders should take to identify causes and then implement solutions to address a culture of overwork. She points to extensive research on workaholism and its negative impacts on individuals and organizations (Clark, 2024). Her three-step process includes:
      • Assess your company’s baseline level of overwork and its origins;
      • Plan for incremental change by targeting places where change will be most effective soonest;
      • Execute a trial experiment, learn, and iterate.
    1. Provide and promote supportive benefits that make a difference. Affordable health insurance is an important starting point. While US health insurance is required to include mental healthcare, affordability is a critical consideration (Bornhorst, 2021). Another effective benefit is an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) which generally includes help with a variety of personal needs. Managers and leaders should assess the accessibility of EAPs and regular check with teams to confirm that they know that they are available, and they are encouraged to take advantage of the services. Flexible schedules, sufficient sick leave, PTO and other leaves for new parents, guardians, caregivers, and those needing bereavement time off are also critical to support team members. It’s not just enough to provide these benefits, it’s also just as important to encourage and role model using them so that team members feel supported in taking time off when they need.

This blog covered three areas where managers and leaders can better support team members’ mental health, and there are of course many more to discuss. Interestingly, a recent study from the UK found that many popular well-meaning, mental health and wellbeing benefits are actually not that beneficial, particularly: mindfulness programs, wellbeing apps, and stress management training. The research found that instead, organizations should focus on workplace conditions and job demands (Fleming, 2024). There’s much more to explore regarding these topics, which will be covered in more detail in upcoming blogs.




Bornhorst, J. (2021, February 19). Does Your Health Insurance Cover Mental Health? Harvard Business Review.

Clark, M. (2024, March 18). How to Fix Your Company’s Culture of Overwork. Harvard Business Review.

Fleming, W. J. (2024). Employee well‐being outcomes from individual‐level mental health interventions: Cross‐sectional evidence from the United Kingdom. Industrial Relations Journal55(2).

Mental Health at Work: Managers and Money | UKG. (n.d.). www.ukg.com