Talking about mental health at work

For this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week we’re looking at the importance of having a  positive attitude towards mental health in the workplace. 

Businesses acknowledge its significance to the workforce and employee productivity and are taking steps to make sure that they’re promoting positive mental health in the workplace

It’s important for employers to take some steps to promote positive mental health around the office. It’s also important for them to provide adequate support to employees who may be experiencing mental ill health.  estimates that up to 70 million days are lost each year as a result of mental health problems in the workplace. This figure is said to cost employers approximately £2.4 billion every year.  

With that in mind, it’s essential to understand mental health and have a plan in place to identify and support your employees who might be experiencing mental ill health.


Understanding mental health

When your employees are physically and mentally healthy, they’re able to be more productive and be better engaged with your company and brand. 

Unfortunately, the stigma around mental health has made it so that some employers feel that they’d be uncomfortable talking to their employees about their mental health. This leads employees to feel like they shouldn’t feel the way they feel and they’ll be judged by colleagues or management if they share their experience. 

Mental ill health is very common and understanding it can make all the difference to your organisation. Creating an encouraging environment where workers feel comfortable talking about mental health can have a positive impact on your company. 

Employees with good mental health are more productive, engaged and loyal to your company. You’re also more likely to retain employees when they know that the company culture promotes positive mental health. 

When your staff feel like they’re not able to talk to their managers or colleagues about problems that they may be having, they’re more likely to come into work when they’re too ill to effectively carry out the duties required of them. 

This also leads to issues surrounding employees staying at work longer than usual or even when they are ill, just  to show the employer that they work hard and are important, as well as some health and safety concerns. 

When mental ill health is left untreated, it can cause secondary symptoms. Examples include depression, mood swings, lack of care for physical health, withdrawal symptoms and more.


Mental health and the law

There are a variety of regulations that protect employees’ mental health at work. From the Freedom of Expression Act to health and safety regulations, these acts contribute to keeping your staff both physically and mentally healthy.

One of many such regulations is the Equality Act 2010. Under this act, the definition of ‘disability’ includes ongoing mental health problems. 

In order to classify as ‘disabled’, employees must have a ‘substantial or long-term impairment that limits their ability to carry out every-day tasks. The law protects individuals with mental health problems from discrimination and harassment

It also entitles workers to reasonable adjustments to enable them to carry out their job. This is intended to level the playing field by removing barriers to doing their job due to the effects of their mental health. 

Some examples of reasonable adjustments include changing work patterns, providing special equipment or making alternative plans for client meetings. 


Talking about mental health at work

There’s a number of things that can be done at work to encourage employees to join in the conversation about mental health. 

While it can take some time to change the organisation’s culture, there are steps that you could take to promote positive mental health and to open up discussions around mental health. This includes:

Promoting wellbeing: Adjustments to company culture can boost employee wellbeing and engagement. Try to embed mental health into your company induction and employee training. Educate them on managing mental health, provide them with resources that could offer support when needed. 

Involve staff in decision-making: There’s a link between employee engagement and their wellbeing. A survey on work-related stress shows that more than one in five employees has called in sick to avoid going into work when they feel stressed. 30% of the same employees also feel that they aren’t able to talk to their employers or managers if they were feeling stressed. 

Involving staff members in the decision making process within an organisation increases motivation and helps them understand how their role fits into the overall objectives of the business. Using employee surveys, focus groups, diversity networks, team retreats and more, you’ll be able to get an idea of the areas within the business that contribute to employees’ mental ill health.

Company Culture: Regular discussions with staff members about their mental health goes a long way to creating a culture of openness. Consider setting a recurring meeting where employees can talk about their wellbeing and issues that may be causing stress. 

Work/life balance: Promoting a healthy balance between employees’ work life and personal life has a positive impact on their wellbeing. While longer working hours may seem manageable at first, you may begin to notice a decline in employee productivity if maintained long-term. Consider encouraging your staff to work sensible hours, take some time off to rest after a busy period at work and to avoid working at weekends and home.


Supporting staff that are working from home

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of having open conversations and increasing awareness surrounding mental health issues. Working from home can make individuals feel lonely and isolated and increase the chances of experiencing burnout. Many individuals that have been furloughed will also have struggled to adjust and with the economy slowly opening up again many will be nervous about returning to the workplace.

 As an employer you should do all you can to make your staff feel safe in the workplace. Read our guide on managing employee health and safety during Covid-19 to ensure you are aware of steps you should take when returning to the workplace. You should also make a Health and safety policy.

Read our guide on managing employees for more information on how to create a positive, mutually beneficial working environment. 

David Price
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