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Mental Health in the Workplace

Today is World Mental Health day, which is a very important day in increasing the awareness of Mental Health but it’s also important as it’s a day that helps to combat the stigma surrounding Mental Health.

One in four adults will experience some kind of Mental Health issue within their lifetime and given that the statistic is so high, I think it’s high time we started talking about it so that people don’t feel they are isolated and alone. We need to get to the stage where people feel they’re able to talk about it without feeling ridiculed or like there is something ‘wrong with them’; as this feeling of isolation and feeling alone of one of the main reasons why people struggle to get better.

The reason I am writing this blog today is to give managers in the workplace (any workplace) some skills that allow them to deal with any staff who suffer from ill mental health. Over the past few years it has been increasingly ‘normal’ to talk about Mental Health, although we are not completely out of the woods yet. People are still uncomfortable talking about their own Mental Health issues but it is a step in the right direction. After all, what good is a perfectly fit body if your mind cannot function properly.

The annual CIPD Absence Management survey, produced in partnership with Simplyhealth was published and it showed that over two-fifths (41%) of organisations have seen an increase in reported mental health problems (such as anxiety and depression) over the last twelve months. These are alarmingly high statistics and it is hard to break down the cause of this. Is this due to more people feeling comfortable with letting their company know that they are going through a difficult time or is it due to the amount of hours people are putting in just to keep their jobs!?

In 2009 the same study showed that the percentage of people reporting issues was 24% and it has steadily grown each year. As a country we are getting better at talking about our Mental Health but studies have shown that there is still a prejudice against people who speak out. NHS waiting lists are at an all time high for counsellors, psychologists and psychotherapists as the shift is moving away from dosing people up on antidepressants and moving more towards the ‘talking therapies’.

So the question remains, what can an organisation do for their employees who report issues with their mental health? The first step is manager training, they are after all, the first point of contact for an employee and getting this stage right is crucial. Studies have shown that only 30% of organisations provide this training to managers. There needs to be a bigger focus on this going forward, as well as tailored support for line managers from HR and signposting employees to appropriate support. Employers also need to look at how well their corporate culture supports good mental health and employee wellbeing.

Just 32% of corporate organisations currently offer a counselling service, compared to 70% of public sector organisations. Similarly, only 21% said they were increasing awareness of mental health issues across the workforce as a whole, compared to over double that (47%) in the public sector. If organisations are to reduce levels of absence related to mental health, then we need to target the root causes of mental health problems in the workplace, rather than just the signs, and deal with issues as and when they arise. An effective employee wellbeing programme, which should include a confidential employee helpline, can help to ensure there is a positive culture towards mental health, and this should be a priority for organisations going forward.

The time an organisation loses due to employee absence is alarming and there are a few things that an organisation can put in place to tackle this before the employee requests time off. Of course, this is not to forget that employees may still take time off due to Mental Health issues but by following the steps below, it will assist in reducing the time significantly.

  • Flexible hours or change to start/finish time. For shift workers not working nights or splitting up their days off to break up the working week can also help.
  • Change of workspace – e.g. quieter, more/ less busy, dividing screens.
  • Working from home (although it’s important to have regular phone catch ups so people remain connected and don’t feel isolated).
  • Changes to break times.
  • Provision of quiet rooms.
  • Light-box or seat with more natural light for someone with seasonal depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
  • Return-to-work policies e.g. phased return – reduced hours gradually building up.
  • Relaxing absence rules and limits for those with disability-related sickness absence.
  • Agreement to give an employee leave at short notice and time off for appointments related to their mental health, such as therapy and counselling.

It is also important to remember that there are legal implications too – once aware of mental health or disability information, employers have a legal duty to consider making reasonable adjustments for their workforce. They also have a general duty of care and responsibility for employee health and preventing personal injury. However, adjustments should be made to help all staff cope and recover, whether or not they have a formal diagnosis.

At Invotra, we take the health of all staff very seriously and we are starting the process of developing action plans for any staff member who feels that they’re experiencing difficulties. These plans will be tailored to each individual staff member but they will also consist of supporting managers to work together with staff to develop a personal action plan to proactively manage their mental health. This allows people to plan in advance and develop tailored support for a time when they’re not coping so well. It also facilitates open dialogue with managers – leading to practical, agreed steps which can form the basis for regular monitoring and review. The action plans will cover:

  • Symptoms, early warning signs and triggers.
  • Potential impact of people’s mental health issues on their performance.
  • What support they need from their line manager and what we can support them with either, in-house or externally.
  • Positive steps for the individual to take to manage their symptoms.

All staff will be offered a personal action plan, should the need arise.

This is just a basic plan of the things you can do within your organisation to support your staff and with time, the plans will become more comprehensive and will adjust as the organisation adjusts.

Ensuring your mental health is healthy, is just as important as physical health and there needs to be a change in the way we culturally speak about it. People shouldn’t have to feel that their organisation wouldn’t support them if they are going through a hard time, and the bonus in all of this is that if an organisation fully supports their employees then this greatly improves retention rates.

The way we speak about Mental Health is changing so lets all show our support for a cause that is close to so many of us.