Workers Benefit When Managers Get Mental Health Training

Coping with mental health concerns in the workplace can be challenging for individuals and organizations. More days of work are lost to mental illness than any other chronic health condition, including diabetes, asthma and heart disease. A new study finds that training managers on mental health issues can help.

For organizations, typically more than 70 percent of the cost associated with employee mental health conditions is not direct medical cost, but indirect costs such as absenteeism, presenteeism (when people are at work, but not fully productive), turnover and training costs for replaced workers.

A recent study published in Lancet Psychiatry looked at the effect of mental health training on managers’ knowledge, attitudes, confidence, and behavior toward employees with mental health conditions and effect on employee sick days. The researchers from the University of New South Wales, Sydney, focused on managers because of the key role they play in the outcomes of workers with mental health conditions. Managers understand the job requirements and workplace issues and they can implement adjustments or accommodations.

The study involved a randomized controlled trial of managers in a large Australian fire and rescue service with a 6-month follow-up. The managers were randomly assigned to a 4-hour, face-to-face mental health training program or a control group without training. Previous research has found that when managers regularly communicate with workers out of work for illness it results in workers returning to work more quickly. However, when the illness is related to mental health, many managers are hesitant or unprepared to contact employees.

After the training, the managers had significantly more knowledge of the manager’s role regarding absences due to sickness and greater confidence in communicating with employees. At the 6-month follow-up, the managers who had received mental health training remained much more confident in talking with employees about how they were doing when compared with the control group.

The researchers also found that the manager training was cost effective and associated with fewer work-related absences. The cost reduction from the training was equivalent to nearly $10 return on every dollar spent on the training.

For more on mental health in the workplace, visit the APA Foundation’s Center for Workplace Mental Health.


  1. Center for Workplace Mental Health. Working Well: Leading a Mentally Healthy Business.

  2. Milligan-Saville, J. et. Al. Workplace mental health training for managers and its effect on sick leave in employees: a cluster randomized controlled trial. The Lancet Psychiatry, Volume 4, Issue 11, November 2017, Pages 850-858.

© American Psychiatric Association.

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