Mental health in the workplace: how to manage the epidemic
Mental health encompasses emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing. It influences how an individual handles stress, interpersonal relationships, and decision-making, which are all factors that one will encounter at work. This is why mental health is just as important to look after as your physical health: if you're having a bad mental health day, with your mind full of negative thoughts, it will be really hard to perform your job role at work.
Research shows that one in four people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England. Such statistics show just how common mental health problems are, and so why it is important to have an open conversation about mental health.
Work-related stress is a big contributor to an employee's mental health. In fact, research shows that in 2020/2021 work-related stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 50 percent of all work-related ill health.
With such statistics, it is crucial that employees are supported within the workplace. It is also beneficial for employers to support their workers as research from the UK Mental Health charity Mind, have shown that higher wellbeing measures at work equals higher productivity.
How to spot a worker having a mental health problem
You know the people in your team, either by working as colleagues or by employing them, and so you may notice changes in them. However, it is important to remember that mental health is personal and a different experience for everyone, and so they may not be an obvious outward sign.
This is why it is so important to make a work culture in which employees feel comfortable enough to speak about problems and battles they are facing. You should never make assumptions, but if you notice some slight changes, you may want to have an open conversation with your colleague and friend. Some clues may include:
1. Change in morale of a person, if their mood or behaviour is different
2. Changes in productivity, motivation and focus
3. Struggling to meet deadlines, get organised and make decisions
4. Looking tired or anxious, and being unenthusiastic in tasks they had previously enjoyed
5. Change in appetite, eating habits, or increased smoking, vaping and drinking
How to talk about mental health with an employee
With some obvious telltale signs, and some being less obvious, it is so important to create an open and welcoming work environment in which employees feel as if they can speak up if they are not mentally feeling great.
We all have mental health, and it can regularly move up and down, depending on factors from both in and outside of work. Since we all experience it, starting a conversation about mental health doesn’t have to be difficult. At Myles Wellbeing, we looked into how to create an open environment to have this conversation, and the role of the employer in this.
1. Listen to people and give employees space to respond
Often just having a support to listen to you can relieve some anxiety. Choose an appropriate place that is private, quiet, and comfortable and ask how they are. Listen to their response and let people explain in their own words how their mental health problem manifests, its triggers, how it impacts their work and what support they need.
2. Be honest and clear
Ensure that you respond to any grievances sensitively but also truthfully. If there are specific grounds for concern which may impact their role within your company, such as high absence levels or impaired performance, it is important to address these at an early stage. Also reassure your employees that your conversations are confidential and you will only share what information they explicitly say you can.
3. Develop an action plan
Work with your employee to develop an individual action plan which will support them in the workplace. Identify triggers for stress which impacts their mental health and work output, and also plan solutions which will combat any problems. The plan should also have a review of the actions agreed after an appropriate time to see if they are working.
4. Encourage people to seek advice and support
If you are concerned by what your employee has told you, then you should advise them to speak to their GP about available support from the NHS. If your organisation offers internal counselling then guide them there.
5. Reassure people
If people are not ready to talk yet, reassure them by making it clear that you are open to talking about mental health. Showcase your wellness plans and make sure people know what support is available, and that it is always available.
If you create a workplace in which employees feel supported then a conversation on mental health will naturally occur. However, if an employee doesn’t feel comfortable just yet, there are still many ways to support them via free resources and tools for your workplace to help. For example, guide them to the charity Mind which offers a free guide to their Wellness Action Plans to help start this important conversation with your workers about their mental health.