Mental illness is something that often goes unrecognised or unnoticed and is sometimes a bit of a taboo subject, with surveys suggesting that over 67% of employees feel they cannot talk about it. Mental illness is something that often goes unrecognised or unnoticed and is sometimes a bit of a taboo subject, with surveys suggesting that over 67% of employees feel they cannot talk about it. It’s something that we can all relate to, whether it’s a diagnosed mental condition or in times of pressure and stress at work.
Stress is a major cause of long term absence from work in manual and non-manual jobs. It is thought that Mental illness accounts for 70 million working days being lost each year, costing UK businesses around £70-100 billion.
It is something that affects both men and women in the workplace and outside of it, but there is still a split between genders. Commonly men find it hard to talk about issues they face and in particular their mental health, for fear of being seen as weak or being stigmatised.
Mental illness is something that can affect all of us so it’s vital that we can all spot the signs and know what to do should we see those signs.
Common Sign to Look out for
Behavioural It’s likely that the area you will notice first is in a change of behaviour or if someone is acting out of character. Maybe they’re arriving late or not taking lunch breaks, this could be a sign that they’re struggling. Being more extroverted or more introverted than normal and not joining in with office banter.
Emotional If someone is struggling with their mental health, they may seem irritable or sensitive to criticism. They may show an uncharacteristic loss of confidence and possibly seem to lose their normal sense of humour.
Cognitive More mistakes that usual or having problems making decisions can be signs too. Maybe a sudden drop in performance or lack of concentration can also indicate that someone is struggling.
Physical Constant colds or being particularly tired at work are both physical ways that someone may appear to be struggling. Another sensitive subject, but rapid weight loss or gain is sometimes a sign, in the same way that frequently looking like they’ve made no effort with their appearance.
Business On a business level, keep an eye on absence levels and staff turnover. These things could indicate a wider problem across multiple employees. Be aware of a general drop of motivation or employees working longer than normal hours.
So, now you know what to look out for, how can you work to intervene, protect and prevent problems with mental health?
Provide internal support by providing accessible guidance on how to manage stress. Understand that stress usually stems from an imbalance in meeting expectations and the persons beliefs in their ability to meet those expectations. Provide support to help your employees become more resilient and able to positively adapt to change.
Create a peer to peer support system, where employees can talk to each other about problems and issues they may be facing, as they may be more comfortable with this. Equally, creating informal, regular drop in sessions with either HR or an outside person or company will make it as easy as possible for employees to talk to someone if they need to. Working Practices
Allowing flexible working can really help your employees cope in a time of high pressure or stress. Home is a much more relaxing environment to be in if someone is struggling, where they can get stuck into work, without facing the office which could aggravate feelings or their illness.
Make sure that your employees know what support is available. If they do not know the support is there, they’re not able to use it. Either using an internal intranet system or having details on your employee handbook can help communicate the support that is available to your employees.
Make sure you find opportunities to remind people about this too. All too often employees will flick through their handbook and then not think to look there until a problem has escalated.
An Employee Assistance Programme can provide support for employees in difficult times, whether that is in work or outside of it too. Offering a range of things from counselling right through to legal advice; it could provide more specific support than you as their employer can, but also, a great resource for you as an employer.
Consider offering things like an Income Protection, which would give your employees peace of mind. An income protection would provide replacement income if someone was ill and unable to work for over 6 months.
Return to Work Plan
Develop a tailored return to work plan for someone that has had time off due to mental illness. This way they can be eased in and have a phased return, to try to prevent any more issues.
Hold regular return to work interviews and catch ups to assess how they’re coping when they do return to work too. Ensuring that you continue to check in with them as time goes on will help to pin point issues quickly should they return.
Creating and implementing a mental health policy will reassure your employees that you care. Create and promote a culture of openness and awareness, which will encourage people to talk about mental health. Encouraging a good work life balance for your employees can help to prevent stress. Making time for non-work activities and meeting with friends and family can help reduce stress levels.
Staff newsletters, posters in communal areas and other internal communications are all great ways to raise awareness. Introduce discussions regularly in meetings, then you can use the opportunity to check in with your employees and gauge their stress levels too.
Regular employee surveys such as our Employee Engagement survey can help to highlight problems, gauge wellbeing and get feedback from your employees, in a way that can be anonymous too, which may encourage people to speak up when they wouldn’t otherwise.
Regular breaks away from desks, out of the office, even if it is only for 10 minutes can help refresh a tired mind. Introduce a power down hour and take some time away from emails as it is often expected for someone to be at the end of an email at all hours, which can lead to problems with mental health.
Reviewing job specifications regularly too will help to make sure that they’re realistic and you’re not expecting too much from your employees.
It is also good practice to make sure you celebrate success with your employees. All too often we focus on the negative aspects, rather than positives. Even small wins, which may not mean much to you, but may mean a lot to your employee should be celebrated.
Finally, don’t forget to train your managers. They are on the ground and are the people who are likely to know their team and spot any changes of behaviour in order to help. Plus, if your employees know that the managers in the company are clued up about mental health they are more likely to talk to them if they feel they are struggling.
Final things to remember
Today- Look for the signs and think about the gaps in support that may need filling.
Tomorrow- Schedule in those meetings with managers to provide training and discuss how to handle issues should they arise.
Next week- compile insights to better inform decisions in the future and identify policies that could help in your business.
- Good mental health is vital to business performance. Well cared for, happy employees will be more engaged, motivated and more loyal.
- Line managers need ongoing support and training to handle issues as and when they arise. Managers are the people who are there day to day and are going to notice those first signs.
- An effective mental health strategy considers intervention, prevention and protection.
- Employee benefits are a good, tangible way to provide support to your staff who may be struggling.