Employee mental health is a key priority for many organizations of all sizes and for good reason. It is still one of the biggest problems among the labor force, but also an area that continues to carry stigma, which prevents many people from addressing the issue until their condition worsens.
Aside from the moral - and legal - obligation you have to keep your staff healthy, mental health can be a big expense for employers that fail to offer people in this situation the right level of support.
The key to this is being able to identify the initial signs that an employee may be struggling at work. This allows you to step in and offer support, advice and guidance, before the problem escalates to the point where they need to take time off work or remove themselves from the labor force altogether.
But what are these warning signs and how do you intervene without embarrassing them or making your relationship awkward? Here are three key signs that someone in your company's wellbeing may be deteriorating to the point where they need your support, and what to do about it:
1. Unexplained absences
If an employee who was always punctual and healthy suddenly starts turning up later to work or taking time off work for an illness, it may be that they are struggling with depression, anxiety, stress or another common mental health problem. This is made worse by the fact that many people still feel embarrassed about this topic. With there still being stigma towards mental health, individuals may not want to admit that their wellbeing is suffering, especially to those they work with.
This can soon turn into a vicious cycle, where the act of taking time off work can negatively impact their mental health, causing their condition to worsen and leading to them having to call in sick more.
2. Changes in behavior
Employees who experience a sudden change in behavior could be struggling emotionally. This can be something that directly affects their work, such as becoming more withdrawn in group situations or having difficulty making decisions. However, it can also be changes in habit like how much they drink, eat, or smoke. These can all be signs that an individual's wellbeing is suffering.
3. Drop in performance
One of the biggest signs that someone may need more support is if there's a sudden drop in performance. Whether it's because they're not as engaged as they were previously or their client interactions aren't being as effective, this is an indication that an employee is struggling.
It may be that people are concerned about the consequences of taking time off for mental health problems so are turning up to the office even though their ability to work is being affected.
It can be awkward, but the best way to deal with any of these situations is to start a conversation with them about it. You - or whoever initiates the talk - needs to ensure that they are empathetic and listen to what the individual has to say. It's important that you don't sound as though you're complaining about them taking time off or suddenly changing their behavior.
All of these signs can be completely unrelated to mental health, which is why it's important that companies encourage a culture where emotional wellbeing is openly discussed. Having a judgement-free environment can help people to discuss problems with their managers, allowing them to receive the support and advice they need.
There are plenty of resources to help you and employees deal with mental health problems and you should always encourage them to talk to their GP if they are struggling. Depending on what support your organization offers, you may also be able to provide them with counselling.