Mental health is a subject which many employees still struggle to talk about in the workplace. But it’s not an issue that can be swept aside and ignored.
Especially when you consider the figures found in an NHS report, which reveal that one in three sick notes handed out by GPs are due to mental health related problems. Mental health is also considered a greater concern than physical illnesses for many UK companies, according to a recent Bupa study.
There has, however, been plenty of good work done to raise awareness of this issue in the last couple of years. This has highlighted ways mental health can be tackled within the workplace. For example, the Stevenson and Farmer Review, published last year, highlighted how Government and employers alike could better support employees struggling with mental health.
More recently, this conversation has attracted royal attention, with Prince William supporting the launch of a new workplace mental health initiative which will provide online training tools, aimed at facilitating positive discussions between employers and employees.
With Mental Health Awareness week taking place between May 14-20 this year, it seems like the perfect time for employers to review how they are managing mental health issues.
What steps can be taken?
If employees are unwilling to talk about mental health, it can be tough to identify when they are encountering difficulties and, therefore, offer the necessary support. Employers can pre-empt this by taking positive actions, however. They can demonstrate an understanding that some people may experience problems in the workplace and show they are prepared to offer support where possible. These steps might include:
1) Providing training
Some companies have been offering employee training programmes to increase knowledge about mental health amongst everyone in the workplace. WH Smith is one example of an organisation implementing a wellbeing strategy tackling this issue. They collaborated with Mental Health First Aid England to train their line managers as mental health first aiders.
With a programme such as this, employees can learn all about mental health and its effects. This will better equip employees to broach the subject with their colleagues. Those struggling with their mental health may also find it easier to talk to supportive staff members.
2) Spotting warning signs
Persistent absence or lateness may indicate an employee is struggling with the demands of work. It might be stress-related, induced by a heavy workload, or because problems at home are affecting performance.
Keeping a closer eye on attendance can be a first step to helping an employee. This data can flag up unusual trends and alert employers to problems that may otherwise be missed. Investing in technologies that can streamline analysis and provide automated early warning can help data work even harder. By being proactive and acting on this information, employers can give their staff an opportunity to talk about what problems they might be encountering. This would put the organisation in a better position to provide support if necessary.
3) Looking after wellbeing
If an employee is found to be struggling with their mental health, organisations could explore how their life can be made easier by reviewing existing working conditions. An employer could assess whether it would be possible to improve an employee’s work-life balance.
Would it be possible to adjust working hours or management structures to support the staff member, allowing them to make a meaningful contribution at work without jeopardising their wellbeing? Could flexible working options help reduce strain and allow the employee to gain access to external support when needed?
Proactively putting processes such as these in place will help employers to manage any potential issues when they occur. Hopefully, this will also reduce any stigma still surrounding mental health and encourage those who are facing difficulties to come forward and receive support.