Effectively managing mental health in the workplace is one of the most important responsibilities for business leaders. With 61% of the UK workforce experiencing work-related mental health issues it’s vital that all employees can recognise warning signs in colleagues, as well as themselves, and understand what support is available.
Read on for tips on how to support staff who are experiencing mental health issues and how to create a work culture that encourages staff to be open about mental health.
How to support staff who are experiencing mental health problems.
The national Mental Health at Work 2018 survey, conducted by YouGov, Business in the Community and Mercer reported that one in three of the UK workforce has been formally diagnosed with a mental health condition at some point in their lifetime. 60% of 4000 respondents felt that management was genuinely concerned about their wellbeing - a figure that has risen steadily in the three years the survey has been running. No doubt, a greater understanding of workplace mental health, as well as campaigns such as the annual Mental Health Awareness Week have contributed significantly towards these improvements.
Here’s how you can do your part.
1. Choose an appropriate place to start the discussion. This could be inside or outside the workplace - whatever environment is most likely to make the individual feel relaxed and will encourage them to talk openly. Reassure them early on that the conversation is confidential.
2. Start with simple, open-ended questions and let them answer in their own time. Make sure you listen well and don’t make assumptions.
3. Create an action plan. It’s vital you consider the individual’s specific needs and address any current impact on their work such as unusually high absence levels or performance-related issues. Make sure you focus on the aspects of their work they are managing well. Work together to develop a positive action plan that takes their mental health issues, and any triggers, into account.
Discuss ways these triggers and subsequent reactions might affect their work and agree on measures for how to manage them. Include input or support from other staff members such as the individual's line manager, if appropriate. Make sure your agreed plan is genuinely supportive and does not require the individual to complete work that singles them out as different; excessive reporting on tasks and targets, for example.
4. Agree times for review and adjust the plan accordingly. Reassure the individual that you’re available when they need you.
5. Discuss further internal support available. Following a disclosure, it’s an employer’s legal duty to consider making adjustments to an employee’s work environment. You could discuss making changes to their role or workspace that might help in either the short or long term. This could include working remotely, making an agreement to take leave at short notice, reallocation of tasks or providing a quiet working space when needed. There’s a wide range of options available, so be open and creative in your approach. If your company has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) there may be counselling options available.
6. Discuss additional support available externally. This could include talking to their GP or making an appointment with a counsellor. Mind, the mental health charity, is a great resource and can help connect visitors with services in their area.
How to create a work culture that encourages staff to be open about mental health
Although approaches to mental health in the workplace are improving there is still much work to do. Here are some simple steps you can take to demonstrate your commitment to providing a work culture that promotes mental health.
● Create strict, coherent policies that are well-communicated. Don’t let support services become something that is mentioned briefly during induction and not touched on again. Posters in communal areas are great but make sure they stand out. Detailed information on the intranet is good too, but ensure it is signposted well. If appropriate anonymised staff surveys will help you understand how well you’re doing and where there might be areas for improvement.
Show that you are as committed to mental health as physical health. Develop processes for reporting concerns, strategies for promoting wellbeing and robust policies that clearly show employees how to get help when they need it.
● Educate management and key staff. It is vital that managers understand their responsibilities for managing mental health in the workplace. They must be comfortable with being approached about any issues and be able to normalise conversations. The employee should feel confident that they’ll be listened to and that their manager will do whatever they can to help. 1-1s should focus on work satisfaction as well as performance, with any concerns reported to HR, or the equivalent, as soon as possible. If trusting relationships are established and management demonstrate integrity and approachability, staff are far more likely to speak up.
● Make good communication integral to your business. We’ve mentioned promoting available services and emphasised the importance of listening when an issue arises, but why not extend that to establishing a holistic work culture which is truly based upon open communication. From performance reviews to internal comms and feedback questionnaires encourage staff to be honest about their role, their concerns and their wellbeing. Management must lead on this and return the favour by fostering a culture of transparency. This helps promote trust across the company and makes employees feel valued. All corporate communications should be honest and meaningful and include genuinely informative updates about the company. No one responds well to being left in the dark, after all.
● Maintain a healthy working environment. The aforementioned employee surveys can be very useful for understanding where improvements could be made. Allocating quiet spaces is a good idea as is making sure people take breaks when they need to and aren’t working unnecessarily long hours. As before, this has to come from the top. Receiving a panicked email from your boss at 1am is rarely OK. Give employees places they can relax; games areas or tea rooms, for example. If employees show an interest, activities like mindfulness are a good idea as are offering volunteering days out of the office.
Effectively managing mental health in the workplace takes time and commitment, but the rewards are huge. By incorporating these steps into your business, you’ll benefit from happier, healthier staff that enjoy working in a culture of trust and transparency. Prioritise your employees and your business will thrive.
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