The promotion of mental health awareness has sprung into the spotlight recently, with the support of celebrities such as Lady Gaga and Heads Together campaign from the Royal Family; it is a difficult topic to ignore and is a startlingly bigger issue than we initially realise.
It is a significant but positive step that people are starting to openly discuss mental health issues, but what can we do to underpin this in the workplace?
Next week, 8th – 14th May 2017 is Mental Health Awareness Week and now is a good a time as any to start thinking differently about this issue and addressing the stigma attached to it.
Mental Health is not a new topic and with ever increasing pressure of daily life; whether that is home life, working life, relationships, studying; as well as a perception of perfection from social media. I believe it is a positive step of highlighting a prominent issue which is an underlying theme to everyone’s wellbeing.
A CIPD study has highlighted the impact on business of poor mental health in employees. The study found that:
- 37% of sufferers are more likely to get into conflict with colleagues
- 57% find it harder to juggle multiple tasks
- 80% find it difficult to concentrate
- 62% take longer to do tasks
- 50% are potentially less patient with customers/clients.
The study also found that, for the first time, stress is now the major cause of long-term absence in manual and non-manual workers.
I don’t believe that there is a one size fits all approach when it comes to mental health, over the years as a HR professional, I pride myself upon my ability to build strong working relationships in the hope that if anyone ever needed someone to talk to, then I would be a person they felt comfortable enough to approach should they need support. I’ve have faced some difficult situations with employees ranging from gambling addiction, alcoholism, post-natal depression, PTSD, financial difficulties and severe depression. Whilst these circumstances cannot be foreseen, I believe that if there had been adequate support mechanisms available in the first instance then the circumstances could have been handled differently.
This is not a subject that we have to tackle together; it has to be a joined up approach. As I mentioned some of the difficult cases I have worked on over the years, they weren’t just “people at work” to me. I took the job home with me, it had a big impact on my emotional wellbeing. I wasn’t sleeping or eating very much and at the time, I didn’t feel comfortable talking to my family and friends, now I am pleased to say that I have a very close and supportive network around me, and by having that conversation you feel much better than you did before you had it. It’s like a form of therapy. It’s important for everyone to have someone to talk to when they need to; bottling emotions up it will only cause further damage to your wellbeing and often with lasting effects.
Starting these conversations in the first place is essential; as an employer, this can be a difficult situation which has the “leave your personal life outside of work” label attached to it. In an era where authenticity is actively supported when things are positive, I don’t see why it should be this way when emotional support is required. By employees bottling situations up, are we not encouraging them to do it by using this label? By employers being equipped to handle mental health in the workplace, they are able to eliminate a culture of silence attached to mental health and are able to demonstrate that they are a caring and forward thinking organisation.
The number one reason for absence in the UK is stress which cost the UK economy £4billion in 2016 alone and on average 5.6 days absence per employee so this to me is a good enough reason as to why employers should be doing more to raise awareness of mental health issues. mental health charity, Mind recently reported some startling figures:
- More than one in five (21 per cent) agreed that they had called in sick to avoid work when asked how workplace stress had affected them
- 14 per cent agreed that they had resigned and 42 per cent had considered resigning when asked how workplace stress had affected them
- 30 per cent of staff disagreed with the statement ‘I would feel able to talk openly with my line manager if I was feeling stressed’
- 56 per cent of employers said they would like to do more to improve staff wellbeing but don’t feel they have the right training or guidanceWhilst I was researching the topic for this blog post, I uncovered so much information that is readily available for everyone, not just employers to use and there were three prominent themes that appeared; taking care of you, taking care of others and that two heads are better than one.
I’m not stating that we should go from one extreme to the other by writing extensive policies, being in employees faces every time they appear under the weather etc. It’s just a case of having the right support mechanisms should they ever be needed; simple things such as equipping line managers with the right tools to have these conversations, having a robust employee assistance service available and having access to tools which can be utilised by employees.
Here are some simple steps that HR professionals can do to enhance the awareness of mental health in their workplace:
- Promote an Employee Assistance Programme – these are not particularly expensive and provide an impartial and specialist resource that all employees can use anonymously. Whilst you will not be aware of how it is used, you should be able to obtain report indicating the type of calls that are being made to allow a more proactive approach
- Download some management support guides and place them on your company intranet, these are free and available on the Mind charity website
- Host a webinar on the subject of mental health, you can host one yourself or you can sign up for one via Mind, Acas or CIPD. Invite your managers to join you to encourage a joined up approach
- Be proactive with return to work interviews, if an employee has been absent due to personal issues, stress or depression, ask them if there is anything you can do to help support them and if you are unsure, seek support from your Occupational Health provider
For more information on how you can implement a mental health awareness campaign in your workplace there are plenty of resources available on the Mind charity website, Acas, CIPD and of course Heads Together. Let’s make a small change to make a big impact.