How strong are your employees...mentally?

With workplace stress on the increase and mental health issues now firmly on the agenda, this really should be a topic that businesses want to tackle head on. And yet according to Mind, 30% of staff disagreed with the statement “I would feel able to talk openly with my line manager if I was feeling stressed”. It is clear that managers do not appreciate the implications of failing to address mental health issues within their organisation. Those who are aware of the consequences seem unclear about what the correct course of action should be. This is upheld by further recent Mind statistics which state that disappointingly “56% of employers said that they would like to do more to improve staff wellbeing but don't feel they have the right training or guidance”.

Unfortunately, the number of people reporting mental health conditions seem to be on the increase, and it is unlikely that this will change. Part of the reason could be due to longer working hours and employees very often feeling obliged to take work home with them. Combined with this is an inability for people to switch off, particularly if they are contactable all of the time. Exacerbating this is the rapid increase in technology, with people spending more and more time in front of screens. Many people will already be aware of the harmful effects of blue light emitted from electronic devices, particularly impacting our sleep. Social media has also been blamed for an increase in anxiety among young people. On top of all of that the British Heart foundation last year reported that more than 20 million adults in the UK are failing to meet Government guidelines for physical activity, leading to all sorts of health complications.

Mental health should therefore be a top priority. On 1st February, this year MIND ran their ‘Time to Talk’ day. The idea being to promote a culture of speaking openly about mental health issues. If you missed this, then perhaps MIND’s ‘Time to Change’ pledge may be something to look into; this could form part of your overall wellbeing strategy.

What can you do?

  1. Raise awareness. Ensure that employees feel comfortable talking about mental health issues and encourage discussions about stress and anxiety. Also remember that mental health issues include eating disorders, panic attacks and addiction. These should be incorporated into any policy which is written up. Mental Health Awareness Week commences on 14th May 2018, so why not plan ahead now and schedule in some activities or functions that raise awareness.

  2. Consider creating a Wellbeing Policy. Although simply drawing up a policy will not solve all issues, it is a helpful exercise to begin compiling the things which your business currently does in order to support staff. It is also a good way to identify gaps. Furthermore, a policy is a simple and effective way of communicating what you do to clients and staff alike. It also gives employees who are struggling something to refer to.

  3. Train managers. This is extremely important as managers are likely to be one of the first people to notice a change in an employee. Managers should be taught to look for signs that an employee is struggling, for example, lack of concentration, increase in absenteeism, short temper, emotional at work or sudden change in performance level.

  4. Introduce an employee assistance programme. Implementing an EAP is usually relatively low cost, but is a great way of offering additional, external support. Very often an employee may not feel comfortable discussing a personal matter with a colleague and so an EAP is a good alternative. Not only do they provide counselling but they also provide practical advice, for example with debt or divorce which can often contribute to depression.If as a business you already have an EAP, make sure that your people know it’s there and they use it. Very often schemes are paid for but poorly communicated.

  5. Promote wellness initiatives. As an employer, you have a duty of care, meaning that you should take all reasonable steps to ensure the wellbeing of your employees. Introducing a wellness programme does not have to be time consuming or expensive, it may be something as simple as providing a free fruit bowl on each of your floors in the office. If your organisation already has a cycle to work scheme then make sure it is adequately promoted. Consider corporate gym membership or providing a ‘quiet room’ at work where employees can retreat for 10 minutes (the room should be a device free zone). A number of companies have recently run campaigns to encourage staff to take proper breaks at work and Stylist Magazine recently relaunched their ‘Reclaim your lunchbreak campaign’. There is significant evidence to suggest that taking even a 30-minute break away from your desk increases productivity and boosts an employee’s focus. In addition, it works wonders for creativity and most importantly mood.

  6. Create and foster a culture of openness, acceptance and support. A business might do this by appointing a wellness representative, ensuring regular communications about health, exercise, support and training or include in client presentations or newsletters. Another great way of embedding the importance of talking about mental issue is to align wellness with various existing policies and processes. This could include the annual appraisal or monthly reviews, so that employees understand a) what is expected of them b) what to look for in others c) where to get help if they need it d) rewarding people for demonstrating these behaviours.

By spending a little time implementing a handful of initiatives you will both increase productivity, begin to tackle absenteeism and boost morale.

Good luck!

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