27th May 2016
According to Mind, one of the UK’s leading mental health charities, 1 in 6 people are currently suffering from poor mental health. This could be short-term stress caused by one or two temporary factors, or could be a lifelong condition.
Is mental health something to think about at work?
There are no clear distinctions between work and home. If people are struggling with poor mental health, this is just as likely to be a problem in the workplace as it is when they’re on their own time. It’s not something that can be switched on and off. In fact, with workplaces often being stressful environments and with employees concerned about appearing weak or distracted, the pressures can mount up even more.
Employers have a duty to support their employees and to do what they can to improve each person’s mental health. Good mental health is also a benefit to the company, since it significantly increases productivity.
Who is at risk of poor mental health?
Everyone. Mental health problems can affect any member of staff, no matter what their age, sex, gender, race or role within the business. An authoritative manager is just as likely to be affected as someone in a junior position.
How can a company improve workplace mental health?
The top priority should be opening channels of communication. Employees should all feel that they can discuss their mental health openly, with people that can offer support.
Make it clear who employees can approach with any mental health concerns. Ideally this should be an open door policy, since poor mental health doesn’t wait for scheduled appointments.
We all naturally feel more comfortable with some people than others, so it can also help to have more than one point of contact for employees to choose between. If an employee feels that they’re forced to have a discussion with someone that they’ve always felt a bit awkward around, then they might avoid the conversation completely. 30% of employees, in a Mind survey, said that they wouldn’t feel that they could talk to someone about their mental health at work.
Here are other things that you can do to improve mental health in the workplace:
Provide staff training:
Arrange for formal and professional training from a relevant charity, organisation or company. This should cover topics like recognising poor mental health, understanding potential causes and accessing and providing support. You might provide this training to each and every employee, or may choose just to offer training to those that will be opening their doors to any employee concerns.
Understand what’s causing poor mental health:
Employers don’t have control over things that are happening outside the workplace, but it’s always worth thinking about what you can change to make a positive impact on an employee. If they’re struggling with debt, can you help by offering overtime so that they can earn a bit more money? If it’s a short term financial problem, can you provide an advance on their wages? Perhaps the cause of their struggle is more closely linked to the workplace – are they under too much pressure, with a workload that needs reducing, or are they not being managed as well as they should be? Are there difficulties with relationships between employees that you might need to try to improve?
Consider the Remploy Workplace Mental Health Support Service
Remploy offers a free Mental Health Support Service that employees can refer themselves to. You might recommend this to an employee that needs coping strategies, a support plan or adjustments in the workplace. Remploy’s service will also support employers, with advice on how to accommodate the needs of workers with mental health conditions.
Since mental health issues don’t wait for a convenient time, providing flexibility for employees can make a big difference to wellbeing. This might mean that employees can start work a little late or leave a little early if there’s something that they need to do elsewhere, or may involve allowing them to work from home for a short while. Employees might be suffering from stress caused by outside factors – anything from a son or daughter being bullied at school to being a victim of identity theft. Even allowing a few phone calls in a private room, during work hours, could make a massive difference to someone’s mental health. It also helps to let employees take short breaks to deal with their distractions, so that they can get their mind back onto their work.
Promote positive social experiences at work
If the workplace is a comfortable social environment, employees are unlikely to clash with their colleagues. You can encourage employees to get to know one another and to connect as friends, by arranging company events and teambuilding activities. If relationships are strong, your employees are also more likely to find others that they can confide in if there’s anything that they’re struggling with.
Create a policy
The Shaw Trust’s Mental Health Report 2010 found that 72% of businesses have no formal Mental Health Policy in place.
Creation of an effective Mental Health Policy starts with a workplace audit. This will include evaluating current stress levels within the workplace, along with any diagnosed mental health conditions that your employees have. You should also try to find out how much your company is contributing to stress levels, and how much of that stress is from outside the workplace.
After completing an audit, you should create your policy which will cover topics such as absence and sick leave, along with alcohol and drug misuse policies. Some of these policies may already be in existence elsewhere, but it helps to bring them together with a specific focus on the support that you can provide. Your policy should cover workplace bullying and harassment, and what you will do to ensure that these don’t happen. You should implement the policy by making all employees aware of it, perhaps with some training to back it up. Make sure that your employees know who they should approach with any concerns, and ensure that you continually monitor how effective your policy is.
The Acas Advisory Booklet, created in conjunction with the NHS’s Mindful Employer initiative, is a valuable resource to read through for a better understanding of how employers can support their employees. You can also get support from NHS Occupational Health teams in your local area.