Mental health issues in the workplace
8th October 2014
As employers companies invest a huge amount of time and effort in finding the right employees to drive growth. The best employers also pay attention to the working environment, ensuring that employees have all the resources and space required to do their best work. Large corporations such as Google are infamous for their employee perks, so much so that they’ve been accused of engineering a scenario that sees employees reluctant to leave the comfort of their GooglePlex offices!
However, despite all of this good work we lose 91 million working days a year in the UK to something that is a much less visible problem – mental ill-health. The stats are alarming:
- Work-related stress is estimated to be the biggest occupational health problem in the UK, after musculoskeletal disorders such as back problems
- Nearly 3 in every 10 employees will have a mental health problem in any one-year – the great majority of which will be anxiety and depressive disorders
- Half of all days lost through mental ill-health are due to anxiety and stress conditions
So what are the causes of mental health issues in the workplace?
Keeping an eye on areas that commonly cause stress is a good place to start. When employees feel overloaded with work, lack control over projects, are unsure about what is expected of them, feel anxious about how change is managed or mistrust working relationships, stress levels tend to soar.
Supportive line managers monitor workloads and ensure work variety. They seek to include employees in decision-making, build positive working relationships in which employees feel comfortable to talk about their problems.
They are also alert to any changes in the behaviour of their employees. Becoming withdrawn or moody, being unable to make decisions or keep time, or being absent from work more than usual are among the common symptoms of the main mental health conditions – though it has to be said that everyone has good and bad days. Sometimes just having a quiet word will create the space that an employee needs to air a problem.
It’s crucial for managers to be able to identify what is controllable and what isn’t.
How can you help somebody struggling with a mental health issue?
Unlike physical illnesses, such as the common cold or the dreaded flu it’s not particularly easy to spot somebody struggling with a mental health problem. On from that, the cause of stress might not be work related, which adds another layer of complexity to the issue as it’s easy to feel like you’re overstepping work relationship boundaries.
So you think one of your employees is struggling with a mental health issue. How should you approach them about the issue?
Well, it’s seemingly obvious but your first course of action should be to simply talk to them. Just ask them how they are and listen. This will at least give your staff the opportunity to get any issues they have off of their chest. Managers that talk with their employees more regularly, both formally (reviews and appraisals) and informally (a chat over a coffee) are more likely to uncover any underlying issues earlier. Not only that, it’s always a good idea to have clear channels of communication open with all of your staff as frequently as possible.
As with any illness, it’s likely that mental health issues can cause employees to be absent from work. Therefore it’s also a good idea to have well documented policies for dealing with absence and discipline. This ensures your employees know exactly where they stand and will help to prevent unnecessary stress over time off.
Here are a couple of policy templates to get you started:
We recommend that you add these to the shared files area of your Staff Squared account so that you can easily keep them updated and your employees can gain access to them.