Today is World Mental Health Day, and we wanted to take the opportunity to discuss a seriously under reported issue: mental health in the workplace.
Last week, the charity Business in the Community (BITC) reported that two-thirds of employees have suffered from mental ill health caused by their work, but few actually turn to their managers or HR department for help.
This is a problem British businesses cannot afford to ignore. After all, mental ill health is the number one reason people take sickness leave, and 15 million missed days at work are attributed to stress, anxiety and depression. That’s costing the UK economy around £8.4 billion every year.
So what can businesses do to help their employees? Wellbeing director at the BITC, Louise Aston said businesses need to do three things: “talk, train and take action.”
Often the first step when addressing an employee’s potential mental ill health is just asking an open-ended question about their emotional state and then really listening to the answer. We all know that we’re supposed to answer “how are you?” with “fine”. It’s automatic, and it’s easy to just let that be the answer. If you ask more specific questions, like “how are you feeling about your workload?”, you’re more likely to get answers with more important information in them.
Organisations including Mind, Business in the Community and Acas have training courses and free downloadable materials that can help your managers help support employees struggling with mental ill health. This can include ideas on how to make the workplace more supportive of employees with a history of mental ill health, how to spot signs of mental health problems, how to discuss mental health issues with employees and how to prevent your place of work contributing to your employees’ mental ill health in the first place.
Something like signing up to the Time to Change Employer Pledge can kick-start a culture shift that resonates throughout a company. When you sign up to the pledge, you submit an action plan for improving how your company thinks about and reacts to mental ill health to Time to Change. They review the action plan and make suggested changes. Then you pledge to implement that action plan. Of the more than 400 employers who have made the pledge, 95% said it has made a positive impact on their business.
Of course, baby steps can make a big difference, too. Encourage employees to take regular breaks and to leave work on time. Discourage stressful habits like emailing at weekends and evenings. Arrange opportunities for employees to volunteer in the community.
These small things can add up, giving your employees the time and space to recharge and reconnect to those around them. That is what can make a real difference in your employees’ mental well being.