At least one in six workers experience common mental health problems, including depression and anxiety- so there’s a real probability that it is affecting a big chunk of your workforce.
Most of us spend a large proportion of our time at work. We all know that the workplace can be a stressful environment with many people facing unrealistic targets, job insecurity and financial pressures on a daily basis. But still, our polls show that 90% of people who have taken time off work due to stress gave their boss another reason for their absence - usually a physical health problem such as a headache or upset stomach. People don’t feel like they can open up and talk to their managers about their wellbeing.
Bottling up these problems without discussing them isn’t good for anyone. Most importantly, for the person experiencing a mental health problem, the first step towards managing it is to talk about it. Delaying this important step can mean slowing the recovery process. For a business, reduced productivity and increased sickness absence due to low mental wellbeing can be costly. If you haven’t already heard the figure before, mental health problems cost the Welsh economy approximately £7.2 billion a year (Mental Health Research Network, 2009).
Smart employers appreciate that their organisation is dependent on its people; and that a healthy and productive workforce with great employee engagement is a recipe for peak performance. Approaches such as flexible working, building resilience and staff development contribute to good engagement, while involving staff in decision-making and giving employees autonomy are key to engaging staff. Good mental health underpins this – with employees who work for organisations which prioritise mental wellbeing reporting greater confidence, motivation and focus.
There are simple, inexpensive measures that can help your organisation become a mentally health workplace. We advise a three pronged approach:
1. Promote wellbeing
Effective management and an open dialogue are fundamental to unlocking your employees’ potential, reducing uncertainty and preventing stress. Ensuring staff are empowered to have a voice is also vital – a culture where staff feel involved and listened to is key to engagement. Ideally staff should be given the opportunity to express ideas not just about their role, but also be involved in wider decision-making about the organisation’s direction of travel.
Raising awareness and promoting discussion about mental health will increase engagement, help educate and overcome prejudice; and empower staff to disclose any issues they might have sooner. Signing the Time to Change Wales Organisational pledge is a great first step towards openly challenging stigma in the workplace.
Other contributory factors include work/life balance, communication, availability of flexible working hours and social activities; and working relationships between staff. Investing in, and addressing these approaches sends a clear message to staff that the organisation appreciates and values the wellbeing of every member of staff.
2. Tackle the causes of mental ill health
We spend so much of our time at work, it’s no surprise that our workplace environment can impact our mental health. The behaviour of managers is really vital – good managers help staff keep their workload under control, create opportunities for learning and development and promote a culture of open dialogue. They also know that their staff need to be treated as individuals, and feel appreciated.
Most jobs will involve an element of stress, but it’s how managers help caveat this stress that can determine the impact it has on staff. Training managers to recognise mental health problems and support staff is important, as is detecting potential triggers, such as long hours with no breaks, unmanageable workloads, unrealistic deadlines, negative relationships or poor communication, job insecurity and lone working. Line managers should ensure they hold regular one-to-one meetings to build trust and create space for employees to raise any issues, particularly if they are working remotely. Support measures such as Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) and occupational health (OH) can really help, but to be effective they need to be well publicised and easy to access.
Sometimes it’s worth managers stepping back and taking stock of the culture of the organisation, and a good way to do this is to carry out a workplace assessment or staff survey. This will increase understanding of the factors which affect staff mental health in your workplace, and where improvements can be made – it also helps staff to feel involved and valued.
3. Support staff with mental health problems.
Everyone’s experience of a mental health problem is different, and as such we recommend a personal wellness action plan be developed between manager and staff, which identifies potential triggers and what support the employee needs. Again, it’s really vital that employers create a culture where staff feel comfortable talking about their wellbeing, and disclosing a diagnosis of a mental health problem if they feel comfortable.
Managers should establish honest communication with the employee, and this should be maintained if this member of staff has time off. It’s important to maintain frequent contact with someone on sick leave and that they are supported back to work when they feel ready. A phased return may be considered, and workplace adjustments might need to be made. Supportive employers who stand by their staff when they are experiencing difficulties will reap rewards in terms of loyalty and commitment from employees.
Mind Cymru provides employers in Wales with a range of information, training and resources to help them to become mentally healthy workplaces. We deliver workplace training to Wales based organisations such as Principality and Welsh Water and support workplaces in Wales to become mentally healthier. You can also download resources (English and Welsh) or request a free Workplace Wellbeing Wales pack.
We’ve also just launched our Workplace Wellbeing Index, a benchmark of best policy and practice for organisations who want to promote and support mental wellbeing. Why not do the right thing for your employees, and become one of the first Welsh organisations to take part? We’re running a 10% discount until 28th April 2017.
By Claire Foster, Mind Cymru