Mental Health Awareness Week is the 14th – 20th May and is a great trigger point for employers to reflect and review their obligations towards employees’ mental health.
Over recent years, the media and social media has had a profound effect on society having a raised awareness of mental health issues. There have been various campaigns, such as “It’s okay to not be okay”, and many soap operas have tackled mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, PTSD and even OCD. It has become more socially acceptable to admit to having mental health issues, but we are still a long way from where we should be in terms of managing and handling mental wellbeing in society and in employment.
As employers, do we do enough? Do we even know what mental health is? Do we brush matters under the carpet? Do we shy away from this subject due to fear of the unknown? Do we think employees jump on a bandwagon and don’t believe they have genuine issues? Do we know what we can do to help and support employees, which will enhance attendance levels and help improve performance and conduct issues?
The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) reported in 2016/2017 that 12.5 million working days were lost due to work related stress, depression and anxiety, with causes being attributed to workload pressures, including tight deadlines and lack of managerial support.
Alcumus have compiled 10 top tips for managing mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. While not all these ideas will suit every business, adopting any one of these suggestions can be a big step in improving mental health in the workplace;
1. Be Open to Mental Health Issues
Instil a culture where people feel able to talk about mental health without judgement, stigma or embarrassment. For example, if an employee has been absent from work with depression, people may avoid them on their return because they don’t know what to say. A simple “hello, it’s good to see you back” from any colleague, but especially management, will make a huge difference to that person.
2. Have a Mental Health Policy in Place
Carry out dedicated stress risk assessments. This will enable you to identify and evaluate risks, which then allow for plans and strategies to be put in place and actioned.
By implementing a mental health policy, your staff will know that you care about their wellbeing. Publicise this policy in your Employee Handbook, Intranet and/or notice boards; be visible about your commitment to supporting mental health issues.
Make sure that you deal with employees who act inappropriately towards an employee suffering from mental health issues; bullying and harassment should not be tolerated in the workplace and your staff need to be aware of this.
3. Monitor Working Hours
Make sure your staff take regular breaks and/or their lunch break, and discourage staff from eating lunch at their desks. Time away from work stations during the day can be invaluable from many aspects; not only for mental wellbeing but also for things such as posture, a break from staring at a computer screen too frequently, and also from a morale perspective as socialisation can be a mood enhancer.
In addition to break times, working hours should also be monitored to ensure you are compliant with The Working Time Regulations and that staff are not exceeding the average maximum working week of 48 hours unless they have signed an opt-out agreement. Further details regarding working and break times are available from your HR Consultant.
4. Encourage a Good Work-Life Balance
Whilst it is not necessarily an employer’s responsibility to ensure staff take their holiday entitlement, it is certainly good practice to encourage and remind staff of their entitlement and to take it. A gentle reminder of outstanding entitlement part way through the holiday year is a great way to prompt your staff to book their time off.
5. Monitor Absence Trends
It’s important to monitor absence trends and hold return to work interviews, even for absences of one day. These interviews can be a vital tool for absence control and provide a platform for an employee to open up about any mental health issues.
They also provide an opportunity to spot areas of underlying concerns and to then allow for future monitoring. However, you should also consider training your managers so that they know how to manage staff with mental health issues, conduct welfare meetings and return to work meetings, appraisals and supervisions, and not be afraid to probe and ask what can sometimes be difficult and emotional questions.
6. Encourage Your Staff to Seek External help
Employees should be encouraged to seek medical and professional help when dealing with mental health issues. Sometimes, a gentle steer in that direction by their employer may encourage them to take that first step if they have not already done so.
It may not be applicable in many cases, but you can offer to go with the person or make the appointment for them. You can also use services such as Occupational Health* and, with the employees’ permission, liaise with their own GP or Occupational Health provider to try to establish an action plan to help that individual within the workplace.
7. Set up an Employee Assistance Programme
An Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) is an excellent tool an organisation can have in place and is often available at a fairly low cost. Having this service available to your staff shows you have a high level of support and commitment to them.
There are many EAPs available in the market* but, in general, an EAP will allow your staff to have access to a confidential help/support line and even perhaps some counselling sessions, depending on what level of service you wish to offer. Being able to offer and remind staff about an EAP is looked upon very favourably by bodies such as ACAS and Employment Tribunals, along with being a great support service for your employees.
8. Make Reasonable Adjustments Where Necessary
You are not necessarily setting precedents or treating people more favourably than others. Judge each case on its own merits; consider making amendments to someone’s working hours or break times, allow them to work from home on occasion or amend their responsibilities.
These suggestions could make for a more positive state of mind for the employee, with the ultimate outcome being that they are able to carry out their duties more effectively and increase their attendance.
It may not always be feasible but, when it is, perhaps allow time off for someone to attend a counselling session or let them start half an hour later if they are struggling to wake up in a morning due to medication. These can be minor changes to the business, and at little costs, but to the employee they could be the difference between a positive and negative state of mind, which can control their mental wellbeing and improve your employment relationship.
9. Communicate with Your Staff
The HSE have identified that this is a huge issue in the workplace which can often lead to the onset or exacerbation of mental health issues, including stress, anxiety and depression.
Where it is feasible, be transparent about the business plans and any expected changes. Ensure that your staff know what their responsibilities are and the expectations of them. Ambiguity and confusion can cause a rise in stress and anxiety levels, which could be avoided with effective communication.
10. Improve Employee Engagement and Involvement
Where possible, improve employee engagement and involvement. Employee commitment, morale and team working is enhanced when staff feel involved in the business, their ideas are listened to and, if viable, are actioned.
A positive working culture can be enhanced and improved by regular praise and recognition of achievements, which doesn’t have to be at any financial cost to the business. A word of praise or thanks could be priceless to any employee and, arguably, even more so to someone suffering from mental health issues.
If you would like to know more about how Alcumus PSM HR consultancy can support you and your business with managing Mental Health and Wellbeing in the workplace, please speak with your HR Consultant or contact .
Authored by Susan Barker, Senior HR Consultant, GCIPD
*We work in conjunction with an Occupational Health & EAP provider.