An employer’s guide to approaching mental health issues in the workplace

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mental health issues in the workplace

A study by Canada Life Group insurance last year highlighted that over half (57%) of UK employees say that they have suffered from mental health problems at work. With this in mind, we explore how you can support your staff’s mental well-being in the workplace.

From an outside point of view, physical health problems can often be easier to understand than those related to mental health. But these problems are increasing in the workplace, with the mental health charity, Mind, revealing that one in six of the UK’s workers are dealing with a mental health problem such as anxiety or depression at any one time.

As with all issues related to health, it’s a sensitive subject, and for many of those that suffer from a mental health problem, it can be even harder to approach the subject in the workplace. There can be a stigma attached to having a mental health problem, meaning that some employees would rather not acknowledge them. In fact, according to Time to Change, the mental health charity, 95% of employees that call in sick with stress gave a different reason.

It can be a difficult subject for employers to approach too, and it can often be transferred to HR teams to discuss. But it’s imperative that mental health issues in the workplace are dealt with the correctly, as one in three of mental health sufferers in the UK state that their situations were made worse by the negative and dismissive approach taken by their employer.

With this in mind, this blog will look at how to approach mental health issues in the workplace to ensure the wellbeing of your staff.

mental health issues in the workplace

Image: Adobe Stock Library

What’s the root of the problem?

Stress and other mental health problems are the leading cause of sickness absence in the UK, costing an average of £1,035 per employee per year. What it’s important to realise is that many mental health problems at work, such as stress, anxiety and depression, can actually be bought about by an overload of work.

To help stress and anxiety from arising in the workplace in the first place, it’s essential that your employees are not stretched too thin. If you think their workloads might be unmanageable, don’t count on them to communicate that to you. Most workers believe that they’ve been given a workload they should be capable of doing, so if they aren’t able to do the job satisfactorily, anxiety and depression can occur.

It’s essential that your management staff are trained to look for the warning signs of this. As David Brudö, CEO and Co-Founder of personal development and mental wellbeing app Remente, puts it: “Most companies will have a dedicated person trained in giving First Aid, but no one who is capable of recognising and helping with, symptoms of mental health conditions. It is worth making sure that you train one, or more people within the company to be able speak about and provide guidance, when it comes to mental health.”

For example, if they are working longer hours without taking breaks, it could be a sign that they’re overworked. Setting up regular training sessions for your management team is therefore key, to ensure that they can both identify when your staff might be suffering from a mental health problem, and to ensure that the work your employees are carrying out isn’t the direct cause of it.

Create an open environment

It’s not always easy to identify when employees are experiencing a mental health issue.

Investing in an office culture that encourages staff to be open about their problems is essential. Whether it’s through a mentoring programme, or creating a friendly, sociable environment for your employees, it’s important to make every single member of staff feel valued, and confident enough to raise any problems they’re experiencing, no matter how big or small.

A mentoring programme is a great place to start, and can give you great visibility on mental health issues within your organisation. By pairing your employees of all levels with a member of the management team, this creates an open platform for your staff a chance to raise any issues that they have so that your business can help to tackle them.

It’s a two-way street, so having a mentoring system in place enables your business to relay good feedback to your employees, and spread stress-busting positivity around the workplace, too.

mental health issues in the workplace

Image: Adobe Stock Library

Providing mental health support

Once you’ve identified an employee that is suffering from a mental health problem, it’s time to provide them with some support.

According to our recent Employee Benefits whitepaper, 17% of the UK’s workers want to receive support for stress and mental health issues in the workplace. What’s more almost a quarter of employees (23%) say they would sacrifice salary for mental health and stress support, suggesting that people who want mental health and stress support consider it a very valuable benefit.

But what should this support look like? First of all, it’s key to identify their problems, what can trigger their anxiety, and get an action plan in place to help them.

For instance, if an employee feels over whelmed throughout the day and needs to take breaks to de-stress, why not allow them to divide their lunch hour into shorter breaks throughout the day? Or, if your employee has problems with self-doubt, why not encourage them to identify one success they have had at work at the end of every day. If there are certain tasks within their day to day role that they find difficult, such as presenting to teams, or client meetings, why not help them to prepare and offer a debrief after each one so that they can improve for next time.

According to Louise Chunn, founder of welldoing.org, an independent counselling and psychotherapy directory, “Dealing with the situation early is far preferable to waiting until there is a more serious problem. Often a little sensitivity – offering an empathetic talk with a senior staff member, some leeway with time off – will go a long way to people feeling understood and supported. Isolation only adds to feelings of fear.”

If an employees’ mental health problem gets more serious, it’s important that they feel valued, and comfortable in the knowledge that their job is not at risk. In these cases, it’s advised to offer them time off work to help them to get better and adjust, and let them know that their job will be waiting for them once they’re ready.

Above and beyond, the physical and mental wellbeing of your staff takes priority. To handle mental health issues in the workplace sensitively, ensure that they know this, and work together to create a support structure that works best for them.

For more information on mental health problems within the workplace, you can find further advice from time to change and Mind.

Related articles:

Mental Health at Work – What Can Employees Do?

Mental Health at Work – Do You Know What To Do?

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