Mental Health in the work place: How to be a mindful employer

Mental health problems in the workplace are common. They cost employers in the UK billions of pounds a year through lost production, recruitment and absence. The question is, why aren’t employers doing more about it?

The simple answer is that, despite the fact mental health issues in the workplace are very common, people still find it difficult to talk about. Employers may not be talking about it because mental health is still seen as a taboo subject, especially in the workplace.

According to mind for better mental health, one in six workers is experiencing common mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, and yet it’s not really being discussed as it often seems too personal, too deep and too complex. However, there are three steps that employers can take to accommodate those suffering from mental health problems and make the workplace mentally healthier.

One of the first steps that employers should take is to tackle the stigma around mental health, by making employers aware of the fact that mental health rarely conforms to stereotypes. Employers need to provide an open and honest environment where their employees feel comfortable enough to openly talk about any mental health problems they may be going through.

They also need to know that there won’t be any repercussions following their openness. The same way one employee can feel comfortable talking about a physical injury they might have sustained, one who is going through mental health problems should feel just as comfortable.

This is where it starts. People need to be aware that mental health does not only exist in the four walls of one’s house. It’s not something that can be switched on and off. Just like a broken leg, it will come to work with you. Not tackling the stigma could prove very costly to both the individual and the business.

The second step that employers can take is to have practical things they can do to help. Though there are many factors an employer cannot control outside the workplace, they can in the workplace. For this reason, it is vital that they have a meaningful conversation with the employee to get a better understanding of their needs and how they can be supported in the workplace. Actions such as monitoring workloads, getting the employee involved in different work activities and monitoring the physical environment and the nature of relationships at work can really help.

Other workplace adjustments that can be made are:

  • More flexible hours
  • A change of workspace, such as a quieter or less busy area
  • Working from home
  • Extra training, support and mentoring
  • More positive and constructive feedback.

Whilst this may all be helpful, it is important that people are not treated differently, or tasked with work that other employees in that same position may not be necessarily required to do. This can damage people’s self-esteem, and be seen as discriminatory – which all ties in with the first step previously mentioned about creating a comfortable environment for everyone.

The final step we advise employers to take is to look at solutions on how to best manage it, should anyone in the office open up about their mental health problems. One solution which has proved helpful at Finchale in our work is Mental Health First Aid. This is a programme which teaches people how to identify, understand and help a person who may be developing a mental health issue. It is essential for employees to take part in this programme so that they can help their employees, and in turn help their businesses.

In the same way most employers learn about physical first aid, they should also learn about Mental Health First Aid because it will equip them with the tools they need to enable them to recognise those crucial warning signs of mental health problems, and therefore have an action plan in place.

This plan should cover:

  • Detecting symptoms, early warning signs and triggers
  • The potential impact mental health can have on one’s performance
  • The support they may need
  • Positive steps for the individual to take.

Another solution is to simply listen. Sometimes all employees need is your help, for them to be able to help themselves. They may already have coping strategies or medical advice that they can follow, but showing empathy can go a long way.

John Marr.

John Marr is the Navigator for Finchale and works closely with the community. He is also highly involved in the organisation’s involvement with the Health at Work Awards North East. Finchale is a multi-award winner of the Health at Work Awards North East, and is currently in the running for the Continuing Excellence Award for the 5th year.