According to Mind, one in four people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England, while in the US the number is one in five. Although workplaces have made significant progress in acknowledging poor mental health as a viable medical condition, many businesses still perpetuate a culture in which workers experiencing issues feel ashamed and fearful of repercussions. Rather than easing the issue, this repression often leads to employees being forced to take time off work, with the Mental Health Foundation reporting that 70 million workdays are lost each year due to mental health problems in the UK.
This needs to be addressed - particularly in the current climate – as a new survey conducted by City Pantry reveals that almost one in ten (8.2%) employees admit to experiencing low levels of happiness at work, while less than a quarter (18%) of desk-job workers have opened up about mental health issues to their colleagues or superiors. It’s essential that employers look to normalize open and honest discussions about mental health difficulties, so as to avoid drops in productivity, maintain employee wellbeing and create a healthier workplace on the whole.
Identifying poor mental health
While it’s important to remember that there’s no easy way to identify when an employee or colleague is experiencing a dip in mental health, there are some tell-tale signs that can point to a deeper issue. Rather than using these to make assumptions about what problems your staff may be struggling with, use them as a way of identifying when you should check in and start a conversation - informal or formal - to see how the person is doing.
Some signs to look out for include:
- Poor concentration
- Difficulty in making decisions - especially if they’re straightforward or routine
- Feeling less interested in day-to-day activities or social events
- Irritability and short temper
- A distinct lack of energy
Remember that identifying one or two symptoms in a short time scale doesn’t always mean a mental health issue is the cause, but they can be signs that the person is experiencing some sort of difficulty and are worth monitoring.
So what can employers do to promote a culture that’s supportive of mental wellbeing?
1. Include mental health in regular wellbeing checks
The most important thing an employer can do to normalize discussing mental health at work is to introduce open discussions into regular wellbeing checks, whether it’s through 1-2-1s or informal get-togethers. This check-in shouldn’t be solely to bring out mental health issues or force employees to indulge their struggles - especially if they don’t feel it impacts their day-to-day activities at work - but should emphasize both the importance and benefits of strong physical and mental wellbeing.
2. Deliver mental health training to managers
Training key decision-makers to notice and respond to mental health issues is essential, as most employees are reluctant to raise problems they’re experiencing in fear of being misunderstood or judged. Broad engagement goes a long way to normalizing opening up, and in turn encouraging senior executives to demonstrate leadership around mental health also helps them feel comfortable prioritizing their own wellbeing.
3. Develop a clear-cut strategy for wellbeing
An ad-hoc approach to mental wellbeing is too apathetic for effective employee engagement or outcomes. There needs to be a strong strategic approach fronted by senior employees that encompasses clear-cut protocols for employees who do raise mental health difficulties, including:
- Concise guidelines for absence and sick pay
- Scheduled check-ins with clear parameters and orchestrators
- Easy access to external support such as counselling, GP appointments or financial support
4. Celebrate both successes and failures at work
Many employees experiencing poor mental health often struggle to both accept their mistakes and celebrate their successes at work, which can lead to a further disconnect. Employers should look to normalize mistakes and mitigate any unwarranted blame or self-consciousness that may result from doing so. They sholud encourage managers to celebrate their teams’ successes to promote a positive work environment. This can be done through regular team-wide meetings, organized team building events or scheduled weekly emails.
5. Make external sources readily available
As well as raising awareness of workplace programs and policies that promote both mental and physical health, employers should highlight clear external sources and make them readily available to struggling employees. Appropriate referral resources should be outlined at the start of employment and reiterated at scheduled check-ins to ensure employees keep engaged.
Ultimately, identifying why an employee may be experiencing poor mental health issues is key to establishing a culture that’s conducive to supporting employees’ holistic wellbeing. Reducing the stigma around mental wellbeing is important to ensure the future success of your organization as it reduces drops in productivity due to unexpected absences and improves employee morale.