Mental health continues to be an issue that employers can’t afford to ignore. Just as we do with physical health, we all have mental health and we all experience periods of good and poor mental health. In fact one in four of us will experience a mental health condition in any given year. It is thought to be responsible for 91 million lost working days each year, and costs employers £26 billion each year – averaging out at a cost of around £1,035 per employee.
We know businesses who take a proactive approach to mental health and support staff will benefit from:
- Saving money
- Reducing sickness absence
- Increasing productivity
- Retaining skilled and experienced staff
- Improving their professional reputation
At the Equality and Human Rights Commission we have developed a range of resources to support employers in taking a proactive and positive approach to mental health. Our top ten tips are simple, practical and cost effective steps that can be implemented whatever the size of an organisation.
Talk about mental ill-health. There is still a lot stigma about mental health conditions which can make staff reluctant to tell someone that this is an issue affecting them. Creating a culture of openness and awareness will help people come forward and seek help.
Look out for signs of mental ill-health. This can include changes in typical behaviour, mood or how they interact with colleagues. Early actions can help prevent the employee becoming more unwell and issues escalating into a crisis or long period of sickness absence.
Ask the individual what they need and what the triggers might be. It is important to remember that everyone’s experiences of mental health are different. Any additional support put in place needs to be unique to the individual’s needs and abilities as well as the requirements of the employer.
Focus on what the person can do – not what they can’t. Having meaningful conversation with employees and listening will help.
Be flexible – some mental health conditions are episodic. Rather than agreeing one or more specific adjustments that will apply all the time, it may be more helpful to agree adjustments that can be implemented as and when they are needed.
Keep talking when an employee is absent or returning from sickness absence. This can help to keep people in the loop about important developments at work and ensure they still feel connected.
Allow variations in working hours and take a flexible approach to start/finish times and/or allow several short breaks instead of one main lunch break. These are examples of low cost adjustments that could be implemented to support staff.
Offer more support when needed. This could include more supervision, extra help with managing and negotiating workloads or implementing a mentor or ‘buddy’ system.
Clearly communicate that support is available to staff and promote wellbeing at work with posters around the office.
Keep up to date with the latest sources of help. In Wales we are lucky to have fantastic organisations that work to improve mental health for everyone. This includes Mind Cymru, Hafal and Gofal who are also partners for the Time to Change initiative. Undertaking a mental first aid course could also be beneficial.
We hope these tips show that taking a positive and proactive approach to mental health in the workplace does not mean becoming an expert on the topic.
As well as our top tips we have published further resources to support employers in taking action on mental health. These can be found on our website www.equalityhumanrights.com/wales
Gan Jennifer Dunne o'r Comisiwn Cydraddoldeb a Hawliau Dynol