Employers have a duty of care to ensure that psychological wellness among their staff is taken as seriously as physical wellbeing
One in four of us will suffer the effects of mental health problems every year and, as we spend around a third of our week days at work, this can be a key influence.
A recent survey from the charity Mind has found that one in four employees who describe their mental health as poor say that work is the primary cause. This can be caused by a multitude of factors, such as unmanageable workloads, stress or insufficient training.
As well as having a large impact on your employees, mental health problems also affect you as an employer through lost productivity, decreased motivation, and increased long-term absence.
The CIPD and Simplyhealth Absence Management Survey 2016 found that 40% of the UK’s long-term absence is caused by stress and mental health problems and two-fifths of organisations have seen an increase in reported mental health problems over the past 12 months.
It’s clear that employers need to take proactive action to support mental health problems in the workplace.
Removing the stigma
An ideal starting point would be to remove any stigma attached to mental health problems within your organisation. Improving awareness and understanding among the leaders and employees helps to break down the barriers. However, it is worth remembering, that just because an employer is open about mental health, not everyone wants to be.
Opening lines of communication between your leadership team and workforce can help you to understand if mental health conditions are prevalent in the workplace, and if this is influenced by the nature of the workplace or job roles.
Supporting your employees
Mind’s survey also found that just 26% of employees would seek support from their manager if they were experiencing a mental health problem. Encourage line managers to spot the early signs and put plans in place for managers or HR teams to help support or broach the subject with any staff members who may be struggling.
Asking your employees what they need from you to support them with their mental health problems shows them that their employer cares and helps make them feel valued in times where they may be feeling negative about themselves.
Executing this can be as simple as having a weekly catch-up, support with a heavy workload, or extending a few deadlines.
Know what help is available
This can include signposting your employee to seek help from their local GP, who can offer a range of NHS-based talking therapies and/or medication. If you have one in place, your employee assistance programme can help staff deal with any personal problems that might adversely affect their work performance, health and wellbeing.
As an example, Simplyhealth’s myWellbeing portal provides confidential access to advice, support and counselling for any personal or work-related issues. This is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by telephone and, if needed, face-to-face counselling. Managers and HR colleagues can also access this service if they would like additional support themselves.
It is important that you offer continual support to your employees after initial discussions about their mental health. Ensure you book a series of follow-up informal discussions with them to review their progress and see if they need any additional help.
Employers must remember that supporting their employees to have good mental health is just as important as supporting their physical health. By putting in place the strategies outlined above, you can make great strides in bringing a culture of parity between physical and mental health.
Although employers’ attitudes towards mental health have made great progress, the CIPD and Simplyhealth research found that only 31% of employers are increasing awareness of mental health issues across their workforce. It is vital for us to continue to tackle the stigma and champion a non-judgemental attitude.
Mental health problems in the workplace can no longer be ignored. As a duty of care, employers must have a framework in place to actively prevent and manage mental health problems before they become severe and potentially lead to lost productivity and/or long-term sickness.
Proactive support across the health spectrum is the best way to look after your employees’ wellbeing, keeping them happy, healthy and productive.