Original Research

A supervisor perspective on mental illness in the South African workspace

Kelly De Jesus, Sumari O'Neil
SA Journal of Human Resource Management | Vol 22 | a2237 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajhrm.v22i0.2237 | © 2024 Kelly De Jesus, Sumari O’Neil | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 26 January 2023 | Published: 20 February 2024

About the author(s)

Kelly De Jesus, Department of Human Resource Management, Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
Sumari O'Neil, Department of Human Resource Management, Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa


Orientation: Supervisors have a direct impact on the work experience and outcomes of subordinates living with mental illness; these employees often struggle with consistent employment.

Research purpose: The supervisory role in addressing mental health in the workplace has been explored in terms of the managerial dimension, but not in terms of the supervisor’s perceptions and understanding of mental health issues. This study set out to explore and describe supervisors’ perceptions of mental illness in the workplace with specific reference to depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety in the South African workplace.

Motivation for the study: If supervisors are not aware of the effect of their behaviour and perceptions, reasonable workplace accommodations cannot be successfully made.

Research approach/design and method: Data were collected by means of in-depth, semi-structured, face-to-face interviews with 26 junior, middle and senior managers and analysed by means of thematic analysis.

Main findings: Organisations in South Africa may not be ready to deal with mental illness in the workplace with supervisors who agree that they are not equipped to deal with mental health issues and their views on mental illness related to common misconceptions and stigmas surrounding it.

Practical/managerial implications: Knowledge about mental health conditions within the workplace can assist managers in more effectively recognising, comprehending and implementing people management strategies related to these conditions.

Contribution/value-add: Owing to the misconceptions of managers, mental wellness in the workplace may not be effectively managed. Better awareness would benefit both managers and HR professionals.


depression; anxiety; bipolar disorder; mental illness; stigma; leader member exchange; perceived organisational support.

JEL Codes

M54: Labor Management

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 3: Good health and well-being


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