Employers have a responsibility towards their staff but knowing how to spot the signs of potential mental health issues, and what they can do about it, is often easier said than done. In this article, we look at why addressing your people’s mental health is important from a business, and individual, perspective, as well as some of the signs to look out for.
The prevalence of mental health within the workplace:
Mental health is an issue that has isolated its victims for centuries and in Britain, we’re pretty poor at openly talking about the things that affect us. Indeed, according to a study conducted by Beneden Health, 29 per cent of UK workers would rather tell their employer that the reason for any workplace absence is because of a physical rather than mental health problem.
This is even more alarming when one considers figures released by the Office for National Statistics in October. It revealed that three-fifths (60 per cent) of people in Britain say that their mental health has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, and 64 per cent feel anxious about the future. At the same time, the Centre for Mental Health has warned that people will need support for their mental health long after the pandemic has ended – the need will be ongoing.
In many ways, this should come as no surprise – prolong confinement, reduced isolation and, in many instances, bereavement (whether through the loss of loved ones or people’s livelihoods) have combined to bring a variety of mental health issues to the fore. Yet there is still a stigma attached to mental health and as many as 24 per cent of employers admit to not knowing how to spot the signs that someone within their team is struggling.
Spotting the signs:
The sooner a mental health issue is identified, the better. It isn’t easy but there are certain signs to look out for. For instance, an individual may appear to be withdrawn or aloof during team meetings. Perhaps they have become disconnected from group discussions, are experiencing mood swings, or there has been a drop in their energy levels. Maybe they appear unfocused combined with a drop in output or deterioration in quality of work. Any one of these should signal a red flag.
Do away with an ‘always-on’ culture:
Technology may be an ‘enabler’, but this has been shown to drive presenteeism – workers remaining ‘at work’ but because of illness or stress, for example, they are not fully functioning.
To overcome this, put policies in place that limit the times of the day when employees are expected to respond to emails or phone calls, create guidelines on what is categorised as ‘urgent’, or formally encourage people to commit to taking breaks away from their computers and mobile phones to help them recharge and ‘switch off’ during the working day.
Create a supportive culture:
Mental health problems need to be regarded in the same was as physical ones and senior management teams must provide a clear safety net that enables people to discuss their situation without fear of discrimination – with the knowledge that their issues will be taken seriously.
This could take the form of providing more flexitime or even a restructure of their current role, assigning a ‘buddy’ or mental health first aider who they can lean on when needed and who isn’t their immediate line manager, or even assigning a differing manager altogether – one whose personal style is better suited to the individual.
The business case:
According to a variety of sources, mental health issues costs UK employers an estimated £45 billion in lost revenues, yet for every £1 spent on mental health interventions they receive £5 back in “reduced absence, presenteeism and staff turnover” (Deloitte). With the number of people experiencing mental health seeing a sharp rise not just since the start of the pandemic but over the last five years, the case for employers to tackle the problem has never been clearer.
One in four people have taken annual leave over the last 12 months to look after their mental health to avoid the need to admit to their employer they are suffering from stress, depression or anxiety. While the media has done a great job in raising greater awareness of mental health during the lockdown period, it is important that employers take steps to tackle it among their people and recognise that this is not something that will remedy itself once ‘normality’ returns. It won’t.
Mental health interventions should be seen as a long-term approach and those employers who act now will not only have happier and healthier workers, but the bottom line will also benefit too as staff absenteeism and turnover rates fall whilst productivity and retention levels increase.