Facing the Mental Health Demons in the Workplace

Approximately 1 in 4 of us will experience some kind of mental health problem each year.  Yet we are still reluctant to talk about it.  We find it easier to discuss a physical problem than to tell our employer about a mental health issue such as depression, stress or anxiety.  It was reported in the press last year that one in three Fit Notes  issued in the UK are related to mental health.  Even more significantly,  of those signed off for these reasons, one in five remain off sick for at least three months.

On that basis, this is a major concern in the workplace and employers need to manage this as part of the overall wellbeing of their workforce.

Cause for concern

The problems which poor mental health can cause in the workplace are wide and can be costly.  Clearly, the first concern is someone’s absence – but this is far from the only worrying factor.  There will be those who are afraid to take time off for some reason.  Either they don’t want to tell anyone of their health problems or they need the money. Maybe they feel under pressure to perform or they don’t want to “let their colleagues down”.  So they may come to work when they are not fit to be there, which brings its own problems.

Poor mental health impacts on their performance, their attitude, their interactions with colleagues and clients.  It also affects the quality of their work and their productivity.  This can lead to further actions such as disciplinary or performance discussions, lay-offs – all of which are likely to worsen the situation.   Then there is the impact on others around them.  Colleagues may feel they overloaded due to someone’s absence or poor performance.  Customers may be getting poor service and support.

Poor mental health costs employers between £33 billion and £42 billion a year, so it would be sensible for employers to consider prevention.

What can we do?

Any organisation can – and should – create a Mental Health plan and then follow it and communicate it to all employees.  Here are some suggestions to help you to create good mental health within the workplace and to combat mental health issues at work:

Promoting Good Mental Health

  • Create an open atmosphere where people feel they can talk about such issues. You can do this by making employees aware of what help is available and where they can access it. Facilitate open discussions amongst employees.
  • Ensure you offer enough breaks from work and make sure people take them. When we get engrossed in a piece of work, it is easy to skip lunch, or work late, but this can be counter-productive and lead to other problems.  Make sure people take regular breaks from work and have a change of scene.  Try and encourage a good work-life balance – and LEAD BY EXAMPLE.  If people see you working all hours and not taking breaks, they will follow your lead as they will think that is what you expect of them as well.
  • Try and give people interesting, varied work which they can excel at. This will increase their sense of worth and happiness at work.
  • Praising people when they do well, exciting them about challenges and opportunities, recognising them when they do well. All of these will help to prevent mental health problems from occurring in the first place. 

Combatting Mental Health Issues

  • If you manage people, or have line managers who support teams, then train the managers to recognise mental health problems and in how to manage such conversations.
  • It might also be worth training one or two employees as mental health mentors, so that people feel they can go to these people if they have any issues but can’t approach you or their manager.
  • The Mental Health Foundation provides a series of guides about dealing with mental health problems. You  can download these at no cost, or you could order some paper copies to keep in the workplace for anyone who needs them.
  • If someone does disclose that they have a mental health problem, it could be made worse by other things – money worries, fear of losing job, fear of taking time off, fear of talking about it. Investigate gently with the individual  – there might be something you can do to help with those concerns.
  • Offer access to a counselling service or at least a helpline.
  • Many Mental Health charities can provide support to you and your employees. Investigate the options which work for you and your company and provide details to your employees.  Provide a list of those charities to any employee who discloses they have a mental health issue.  There is a huge amount of help available for those who need it.

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Human Resources, Personnel and Pineapples

Should it be Human Resources or Personnel?  Two people have raised the point with me this week that it was “better” when it was Personnel.  After all, people are people –  not resources like staplers or widgets, which employers can discard when there is a problem, without considering feelings or anxieties.

Why Human Resources?

Historically, the Welfare department looked after the people.  Then Welfare was re-branded as Personnel, to get away from the “nanny” image.  But we have moved on a bit since then.  People are a resource and there is no getting away from that.  Of course, they are different from staplers and need different treatment, but they are a resource which contributes to the effectiveness and success of a business.  So calling them “Human Resources” does what it says on the tin – they are human and they are resources  – and the role of the HR department these days is very different.  Whilst there is still an element of pay and rations, the HR director acts as a strategic partner to the business.  HR is there to help the organisation to use their workforce in the best way to achieve their business aims.

So what is the problem?

The real message behind this concern about the name, is that people feel unloved in the workplace.  They feel as though their employer does not consider their feelings or consult them.  They feel used (like a stapler) and then ignored. As I have stated before, people want to feel they are part of the organisation.  They want to feel that they matter,  and they want to be treated fairly and professionally.

If you get this right, then it doesn’t matter what you call the workforce – personnel, human resources, pineapples (!).  They will be happy and loyal and will be a great asset and ambassador for your business.

We will provide some help for you to achieve this in the near future.  Watch this space!

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Counting The Pennies

This is a guest-blog written for The Female Money Doctor, Dr Nikki Ramskill.  To read more, please go to

Are you giving your employees financial advice and support?

Your financial responsibility towards the people working for you shouldn’t stop with their pay cheque.

When people are struggling financially, they always hope for more income.  They try to find an extra job.  They volunteer for  some overtime, or hope to get a pay rise.  This is all so that they can pay their bills and feed their families.  Many people have more than one job or work overtime, so they can bring in a bit more money.  As an employer, you are already helping them by paying for their services.  But is there more you can and should be doing?


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Quick Wins To Manage “The Odd Day Off Sick”

Imagine you have a group of employees who are grumbling amongst themselves about their colleague who is off sick – again!  Or at least, they think she is sick as she didn’t turn up to work this morning .  All they can see is that nobody appears to be doing anything about her repeated absences and she “gets away with it” and they have to carry the extra work while she is off.  They are spending more time at the water cooler, moaning about their colleague than they are spending on their own jobs.

Sometimes absence may be genuine sickness, sometimes you may have doubts.  So how can you tell whether or not it is genuine and what can you do about it?

The quick answer is that you cannot tell the difference, particularly if there is a mental health issue, which is not always obvious to anybody other than the sufferer.   The best advice is to treat all sickness as genuine and assume that there is a real health issue (even if you are convinced that the person is “trying it on”).

So what should you do?

  • Firstly, somebody’s absence is their own business and your business. It is not something to be shared by you with their colleagues. So you should not tell their colleagues why an individual is absent or what action you are taking.  However, you might find it useful to tell the team that their colleague will not be in work today and that you know about it and are speaking to the individual about it. That gives the message that a) the absence has been noticed and b) it is being dealt with.
  • Always have an informal interview with the absent employee when they return to work. This can give you more information (whether there is a problem at home; whether they are unhappy at work for some reason, whether there is a physical problem – like an allergy to something  in their workplace).  Or you might find out that they were not sick at all, but the absence was for another reason.  In any case, you can guide the employee on what they should do (remind them about calling in sick by a certain time, or remind them about their options if they need emergency time off).  You may find out that the employee has a recurring health problem and you can then decide what, if any, adjustments you may need to make to their working patterns, hours or the actual work they do.  This informal interview gives a strong message to the individual that their absence has been noticed.  If it is genuine sickness, they may be glad of your interest in their welfare.  If it is not genuine sickness, then the fact it has been noticed may prevent them in future from taking time off again without good cause.
  • Keep an attendance record for every employee. Record any absence with the reason for that absence.  This will help you to analyse any patterns (it is always a Monday, or it is always when a specific piece of work is due or it is always when a particular person is working with the absent individual).  In itself, this can highlight areas you need to manage (staff who don’t get on with each other, or a misfit of skills and experience or lack of training).
  • Have a clear and published policy on absence, so that everyone in the workplace can understand the rules and guidance and what are the consequences if they fail to adhere.

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Five Steps Towards Easing The Recruitment Headache


One of the key issues faced by business today is recruiting the right person with the right skills and attitude.  There is no magic bullet which achieves this, but there are things which every employer can and should be doing, some of which may not cost much – or anything at all – which could make a huge difference to their workforce and their productivity. The average length an employee spends in any one employment is only about four years and it can cost about a third of an employee’s salary to replace them. Happy and fulfilled employees are more productive, more creative and less likely to leave, or take time off sick.

If you follow these simple steps, you will be on your way to making your Business stand out in the marketplace, so that your employees (and prospective candidates) can see a difference between you and your competitors.

  • We all need to feel valued and to have our efforts recognised.  Think about how much it brightens your day if someone thanks you unexpectedly for something or writes an appreciative rating or note about something you have done.  Just a simple – but genuinely heartfelt – “thank you” can go a long way.  It doesn’t have to be any big award or specific mention in public – just a pause by someone’s work station to let them know you have noticed their input and appreciate it.
  • We all need to feel that we belong to a tribe or are part of a team.  Where employees are in a team, then it is a fairly straightforward task  for the team manager or supervisor to manage and to engender a team spirit.  Where a person works on their own, or is not a team player, then it is more difficult, but even more important that they are made to feel welcome by others in the workplace and that they are included.  We all want to be seen and to feel appreciated.
  • Being an important cog. People need to understand how what they do benefits them, the team and the Company mission.  This needs to be reinforced regularly, so that they can see their contribution is valuable and valued.
  • We all have views and opinions on everything and a different viewpoint can sometimes bring a whole new perspective.  We need to feel that our opinion is sought and valued.  This does not mean that every suggestion has to be acted on or agreed, but if someone has made the (sometimes difficult) effort to put their head above the parapet and make a suggestion about work, then that deserves to be carefully considered and a response given.  If it is an impractical suggestion or there is a reason why it cannot be implemented, then the person who raised it deserves an explanation for that decision.  Implementing a suggestion scheme can be really powerful, as long as all the suggestions are properly considered and responses are given.
  • We all thrive on development, either of our skills, or personal development.  It may not cost a huge amount to provide some training, and it does not need to be complex training.  No matter how experienced someone is in their work, there is always something new to learn, or some new technique or improvement which can be taught.  If a worker feels their employer has invested in their training, and they feel even slightly more qualified as a result, then they are more likely to want to remain with that employer.  To quote Richard Branson “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough, so they don’t want to”.

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