Did you know mental health issues are the single largest cause of employees calling in sick to work?
…and this is only those who reported mental health as the reason for their absence. It would not be unreasonable to suggest that the numbers could be even higher as many people may choose not to disclose their mental health difficulties to avoid the stigma around mental illness.
Whilst there is undoubtedly still a stigma, discussion around mental illness is on the rise and the mental health of employees is becoming a priority for many businesses. A positive approach and a healthy open discussion surrounding mental health make employees feel supported and valued. This creates a healthier working environment for everyone, where employees can look introspectively at their wellbeing and can encourage and support one another in doing the same. How an employee feels, thinks, and acts impacts everything from how well they function in a team to their productivity. Helping employees improve their mental health is not only necessary for their well-being, but it also impacts the entire business.
Mental health at work has always been important, but the COVID pandemic has heightened this. Not only have millions of people experienced mental health issues for the first time during the pandemic, but as we move away from the height of the COVID-era, mental health understanding is more important than ever. Remote working has its perks, but if you’re working from home nowadays, focusing on your mental wellbeing is crucial. For some tips on how to make your environment as healthy as possible, check out our article on healthy workspaces here.
As a manager or employer, approaching the topic of mental health in your workplace may feel intimidating. Whether your employees work in the office or remotely, it is equally important that you approach it sensitively and respectfully, with the wellbeing of everyone in your business at the forefront. With our resources, you don’t have to worry.
To help you introduce wellbeing into your business, we’ve created an 8-step action plan. Taking time to consider each of the headings below, consider how you can introduce these ideas into your business or team. Remember: these pointers are not mutually exclusive and approaching one will automatically assist with some of the others, so if you cover all of these bases, you should be thoroughly ready to start taking action to make your workplace the healthiest it can be for everyone involved.
First and foremost, raising awareness of mental health issues. There are several things you can do to raise awareness; this includes promoting support services and making mental health information readily available via noticeboards or workplace intranet. One of the best things you can do is provide mental health training and education. Our mental health awareness e-learning course helps learners to recognise signs of mental illness and learn how to appropriately approach them in the workplace. Those suffering will feel valued by you as their employer and will always be more understood by colleagues who may have never suffered from mental health and were largely unfamiliar with it prior to training.
Moreover, there may be individuals suffering from mental health difficulties without even knowing it, by educating your team on what mental illness may look like, you can dramatically turn an employee’s life around by helping them realise it’s okay to ask for help.
(Remember, recognising symptoms is important but is not yours or your employee’s responsibility to diagnose! Instead, ensure your employees have access to the right professionals in terms of real diagnosis and treatments).
Reducing stigma. Raising awareness reduces stigma! Discussing openly the importance of mental health challenges the negative connotations and makes employees feel more comfortable speaking about their struggles to their managers or colleagues. Thus, getting rid of the shame around mental illness, and allowing them to get the help they need. There are a lot of myths about mental health, and training staff with the facts helps to dispel those myths. With the right care, people with mental health issues can continue to work happily and productively. Ultimately, with less stigma, your business will be better off for everyone.
Supporting individuals with mental health conditions. Mental illness affects people across every aspect of their lives, but for many, the workplace can be a particularly difficult environment when they are struggling. Added stress and pressure can be debilitating, particularly if you feel as though there is nobody to reach out to for help, or that you won’t be understood if you do. For this reason, supporting your staff is crucial, and will help them both inside and outside of the workplace.
Leaders and managers need the skills and the confidence to approach someone they are concerned about, and to provide ongoing support. Employers have a legal responsibility to make reasonable adjustments to the role of an employee with a mental health condition, to help them stay at, or return to work.
Building individuals’ skills and resilience. It is important to encourage employees to develop their knowledge and skills across a broad range of areas. You could focus on building employees’ confidence in their specified tasks, or on much more universal skills such as communication, problem-solving, conflict resolution, negotiation, mental health awareness, or workplace ethics and legislation. Employees who feel that their employer invests in their growth and development have greater job satisfaction; and providing them with new skills to combat their work should reduce their stress. Both of these things subsequently create a healthier environment for all.
Facilitating access to psychological support services. Your organisation can build links with external service providers to help you develop their mental health plans. This has two main advantages. Firstly, the provider can guide in developing your overall mental health plans. Secondly, having a connection already in place can make it easier for employees to seek professional mental health support should they need it.
Promoting positive job roles and working environments. Challenging unhealthy behaviours can be crucial to a healthy work environment. This includes speaking out against gossiping, especially if you are the manager. Promoting a safe and respectful culture for all, including those who may have to tackle stigma in their everyday lives. This goes for people with a mental health issue but also includes those who live with unjust stigmas surrounding race or sexuality.
It is important to note that being from a marginalised or minority group doesn’t automatically mean someone will have mental health issues but may mean they’re at higher risk of experiencing poor mental health. A recent study by Stonewall found that half of LGBTIQ+ people had experienced depression and three in five had experienced anxiety, and that one in eight LGBTIQ+ people aged 18-24 had attempted to end their life. Similarly, micro-aggressions and explicitly hurtful behaviour towards people from BAME communities can increase their likelihood of experiencing mental health problems.
By challenging unhealthy workplace habits like gossiping and stigmatised identities, you are actively tackling mental health issues. With positive environments, teams are better equipped to manage conflict and actively support each other.
Policy development and implementation. Policies provide the groundwork for an organisation’s direction of travel and the basis for action. Important policies relevant to mental health include but are not limited to; bullying and harassment in the workplace, diversity and inclusion, health and safety and return to work.
Through consultation with employees and a review of best practice information, policies can be developed that boost productivity while also promoting positive health practices.
Workplace risk factors. Any plan to improve workplace mental health also needs to offer practical guidance on decreasing job stress. This means addressing, in a very practical manner, the relevant risk factors for job stress that exists in the workplace. There are six main areas that can lead to work-related stress. These are: demands, control, support, relationships, role and change.
Ultimately, tackling mental health in the workplace is incredibly important for employee wellbeing and business outcomes. It shows that you value your employees and want to support them the best you can. If you support your employees, they will be in the best mental headspace to give back and will be more willing to give you their all. The above action plan outlines the best way to approach mental wellbeing as a manager or leader. However, as you now know, educating your teams is crucial. With our Understanding Mental Health and Mental Health Awareness e-learning courses, our aim is to support the promotion of a safe and respectful workplace culture, with teams that are better equipped to manage concerns that arise around mental health and actively support each other.
Check out what we have to offer your business, and don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions!