Whether you employ ten, a hundred or a thousand people, as a business owner paying attention to the mental health of your workforce has never been more important. It is estimated that around 300,000 people lose their jobs each year due to a mental health problem! This is something no employer wants to happen, but how do we address the issue of mental wellbeing within the workplace in a way that will both destigmatise mental health at work and help members of our workforce when they are struggling?

Firstly, it is important to acknowledge that mental health conditions go beyond anxiety and depression. There are many, many people concealing fluctuating mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, because they are worried about how this will be perceived by both their employer and their colleagues. A very crucial step to take as an employer, is to acknowledge that there is a wide spectrum of mental illness. Remove the stigma and demonstrate to your employees that it is acceptable to discuss their mental health at work.

When it comes to mental health, employers often feel scared of saying the wrong thing. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Based on statistics, some of the most talented and potentially valuable employees in your industry will be dealing with a mental illness and if you want to hire them before your competitors do, then you need to build a reputation for accepting mental health conditions. In turn, current employees will also be more likely to stay with a company that addresses their mental health needs and creates an environment where they can openly discuss mental illness and their therapy. It’s a tactic more employers should try!

If an employee doesn’t make it known to you that they are dealing with a mental health issue, then it is difficult for an employer to offer any sort of help, so make sure you are aware of some of the more common signs that there may be an issue. Have any of your employees…

  • Become uncommunicative or exhibited moody behaviour
  • Had an increase in unexplained absences or sick leave
  • Shown untypically poor decision-making
  • Exhibited a lack of energy
  • Started to show poor time-keeping

These could all be indicators that the individual is dealing with a mental health issue.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has compiled some extremely helpful resources, that all employers should make use of. Their Employees Checklist is particularly helpful as this identifies areas where you can actually take action to remove the mitigating factors which could be exacerbating an employee’s mental health issues…

  • Unreasonable demands – heavy workloads can place heavy demands on staff. It is also important to consider the working environment
  • A lack of control – employees may feel that they have little or no say over their schedules
  • A lack of support – staff may believe that they are left to tackle problems without the support of line managers or other colleagues
  • Poor working relationships – a lack of trust, or the wrong culture, can cause stress and anxiety
  • Uncertain roles – unclear or ill-defined roles can lead to conflict and leave employees feeling confused
  • Unexpected change – sudden organisational changes can make employees feel isolated and uncertain.

You can access the full range of HSE resources here.

As an employer, you are not expected to be a mental health specialist, your main role is to create a safe healthy environment where conversations can take place between yourself and your employees and between the employees themselves, continuously nurturing a solid platform for better dealing with, and supporting, any members of the workforce struggling with mental health and stress-related conditions. This type of environment is one where teams have trusting relationships, where people appreciate and respect individual differences and opinions. Better conversations lead to improved relationships and wellbeing, greater acceptance of diversity, better decision-making, problem-solving, and creativity.

So, in conclusion, encourage your workforce to think about the different ways to have a conversation about mental health. Whether that‘s listening to a colleague over a coffee or spending part of a meeting busting mental health myths, it will all add up to create the safe environment needed to make everyone feel safe to be themselves at work.

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