HSE statistics for 2020/21 show that stress, depression and anxiety accounted for 50% of all work-related sickness. With this week being Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, this blog post serves to raise awareness of mental health in the workplace and how improved mental wellbeing can be promoted to all.
What might poor mental health look like?
Mental health problems may occur due to a variety of circumstances that can result from in or outside the workplace. Not all mental health problems are obvious, so it is key for businesses to be aware of subtle changes in employee behaviour that may signal a larger problem.
These can include:
· Persistent lateness or working excessive hours
· Low mood, depression, anxiety or tearfulness
· Alcohol or drug abuse
· Financial problems or bereavement
What to do if an employee comes to you with an issue?
If an employee has disclosed a mental health condition to you, keep the lines of communication open by engaging in positive conversations, listening to any concerns the employee may have and ensure the disclosure is dealt with sensitively, maintaining confidentiality. If your business has a confidential support line, it may be useful to pass the details on to the employee. However, there are other support lines that may be used to signpost, including the Samaritans (Phone number: 116 123).
Sometimes, it may be the case that an employee may raise an issue about the mental health of a co-worker. In this case, it may be useful to thank the employee for their concern and to urge them to keep the issues raised confidential from other co-workers. Here, you can then schedule a private meeting with the employee at risk of poor mental health to ascertain if there is anything affecting them in their work or personal life and what solutions might be put in place.
What can employers do to promote mental wellbeing?
There a number of strategies that may be used to effectively promote mental wellbeing in the workplace.
· Increase awareness and understanding of mental health
Understand what mental ill health encompasses and assess the risks of work-related stress or other mental ill health issues affecting your workforce. This will help to plan the best strategy for the organisation.
Be aware of your legal obligations, such as the duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled workers.
Educate staff on mental health to help change outdated perceptions. This could involve training management teams on how to deal with mental ill health issues; appointing mental health first-aiders; and ensuring all staff are provided with mental health awareness information, including details of available support.
Encourage open conversations about mental ill health to help create an environment where employees feel able to discuss their concerns. Often individuals with diagnosed mental health conditions do not inform their employers of their diagnosis which contributes to increased levels of presenteeism.
Consider creating a dedicated mental health policy.
· Create a flexible working environment
Consider the possibility of flexible working in your business, for example in the ability of staff to work from home or use hybrid working where appropriate. Small adjustments may be useful to those with young families or those who experience anxiety as a result of coming into work.
It is important to deal with flexible working requests fairly, and to take into consideration reasonable adjustments that may be required by staff with mental health conditions.
· Keep an eye on workload
To promote the best mental health of your team, it may be important to ensure your staff are working sensible hours, are not overworking or overstretching amidst other commitments, and to ensure there are enough team to cover staff sickness or absence so as not to overburden other team members. If this is the case, consider re-delegating tasks or expanding your team to prevent burnout
· Advertise wellbeing initiatives
Does your business offer any wellbeing incentives? If so, it might be useful to advertise this to staff in communal areas or on group chats. If not, consider what could be implemented within your business to facilitate increased wellbeing. This may take the form of lunchtime running or walking groups, yoga classes or cycle to work schemes.
If you are concerned about someone, here are some resources that can be used to signpost for support.
For urgent mental health help, call 999 or use the NHS website to find urgent mental health help where you are.
· Samaritans. To talk about anything that is upsetting you, you can contact Samaritans 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can call 116 123 (free from any phone), email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit some branches in person.
· National Suicide Prevention Helpline UK. Offers a supportive listening service to anyone with thoughts of suicide. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Helpline UK on 0800 689 5652 (open 24/7).
· Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM). You can call the CALM on 0800 58 58 58 (5pm–midnight every day) if you are struggling and need to talk. Or if you prefer not to speak on the phone, you could try the CALM webchat service.
· Papyrus HOPELINEUK. If you're under 35 and struggling with suicidal feelings, or concerned about a young person who might be struggling, you can call Papyrus HOPELINEUK on 0800 068 4141 (weekdays 10am-10pm, weekends 2pm-10pm and bank holidays 2pm–10pm), email email@example.com or text 07786 209 697.
· Nightline. If you're a student, you can look on the Nightline website to see if your university or college offers a night-time listening service. Nightline phone operators are all students too.
· Switchboard. If you identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, you can call Switchboard on 0300 330 0630 (10am–10pm every day), email firstname.lastname@example.org or use their webchat service. Phone operators all identify as LGBT+.
· Helplines Partnership. For more options, visit the Helplines Partnership website for a directory of UK helplines. Mind's Infoline can also help you find services that can support you. If you're outside the UK, the Befrienders Worldwide website has a tool to search by country for emotional support helplines around the world.