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.