Supporting Mental Health Needs in the Workplace by Marie Greenhalgh (NPQH) Head of Inclusion College
- More than 70% of employees have experienced mental health problems in their lives, with over 53% of employees affected by poor mental health in their current workplace.
- 26% of staff think the mental health policies in their workplace are unsatisfactory and do not think their company cares about their mental health, and 23% of staff said they do not have any mental health policies or practices at work.
- 21% of staff do not have anyone at work that they would feel comfortable talking to if they were struggling with their mental health.
- 77% of staff are either 'not sure' or 'unaware' of any suicide prevention policies in their workplace.
- 31% of staff have felt suicidal at work.
- 44% of staff have either left a job or considered leaving a job because their employer did not value the importance of mental health
Mental health, we all have it. But here are some pretty grim statistics. I believe supporting people’s mental health in the workplace is of utmost importance.. But what can we do?
Firstly, let’s look at the ‘why?’
When contemplating change or new strategies, especially at a whole organisation level, it is important to think about ‘why’, especially if you are (legitimately) concerned about time and cost implications for your business.
Good mental health at work and good management go hand in hand, and there is strong evidence that workplaces with high levels of mental wellbeing are more productive. The Mental Health Foundation reports addressing wellbeing at work increases productivity by as much as 12%. Promoting wellbeing at work may have associated costs, but actually long term it saves money, mainly due to reduced lost productivity that occurs due to an employee working while ill) and absenteeism (missing work due to ill health). Building better workplace cultures with more engaged employees reduces stress and burnout, creating healthier and more active employees. I also personally believe that there exists a moral responsibility to look after your employees, along with a need to address this in order to contribute to a societal shift in attitudes and assumptions towards mental health.
There are many current challenges that are impacting people’s mental health, and their mental health at work.To name just a few-
- Cost of living crisis and possible impending recession.
- Fear - fear of covid, political fears, financial fears, fear of failure at work or in life
- Toxic workplace cultures. This can be having negative relationships with management or colleagues.
- Work life balance - imbalance.
- Family or loved ones going through something.
- Relationship issues.
- Bereavement and grief.
- Existing ongoing mental health needs such as low mood, anxiety, OCD.
- Pressure at work itself, especially in the current times.
- Feeling like you can’t talk to anyone, the associated shame with mental health, not knowing where to turn.
What are the signs someone is struggling?
- Being distracted and unfocused
- Tearful, angry or irritable
- Avoiding tasks and deadlines
- Procrastination and unable to make a decision
- Absence or even going AWOL
- Avoiding people, withdrawing from the social aspects of work
- Physical signs - sweating, jiggling legs, avoiding eye contact, headaches, stomach aches
- Off food, losing weight, or overeating
- Misusing alcohol or drugs
- Not sleeping
- Sometime this can escalate into a panic attack or a period of ill mental health
- Expressing thoughts of suicide or self harm
What can we do?
Taking steps to support people’s mental health needn’t cost financially.
Are people able to ask for help and support or would they be worried about this? Do you have a positive trusting culture within the staff team? Do you celebrate each others’ successes, do you make time to talk? Are there team events? Make sure employees have regular one-to-ones with their managers, to talk about any problems they're having. Encourage positive mental health, for example arranging mental health awareness training, workshops or appointing mental health 'champions' who staff can talk to.
Do you have quiet spaces people can go to if needed? Do people take breaks and lunch time? Is it noisy and overwhelming or are there calmer spaces? Physical activity is really good for mental health, are staff able to go out and have a walk or do they sit all day? Same for food, A diet that’s good for your physical health is also good for your mental health.Install smart-tech such as R;pple to intercept web searches relating to self-harm and suicide
If someone is returning to work, are there accommodations you can make to help them? For example flexi time or remote working, could you look together at deadlines and tasks that may be causing additional stress? Do they need any further training or mentoring?
Do you communicate how important it is to the business? Is it a rolling priority on communications and agendas? Do you provide staff with support such as counselling or details of support groups? Is self care encouraged and talked about? Look at your workplace culture, is work balance talked about and ensure people don’t work over hours and that they take their holiday leave.
Consider providing a fund for employees. Financial struggles are often linked to mental health issues, with 30% of employees citing financial wellbeing as a cause of stress outside of work
One of my aims as Head of Inclusion College is to get as many of our students into work experience as possible. I am not biased when I say they are wonderful, dedicated, skilled and have a lot to offer. I am also realistic enough to know that some workplaces may worry about taking them on - what if they have some sort of ‘episode’ while here, is it going to take up lots of my time when I am already stretched? These are all valid concerns, but as I said earlier, I am working towards workplaces and even society where there is no discrimination and stigma around mental health (big goal!)
I’ll finish with a quote:
What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candour. More unashamed conversation.