How can you improve mental health in the workplace?
8 - 14 May marks Mental Health Awareness week here in the UK. But what can the workplace be doing to improve the situation when it comes to improving mental health?
The issue of mental health isn’t a new one, but it’s an issue that has started to be taken more seriously over the last few decades. When you see some of the statistics it’s no wonder; 77% of employees have experienced a mental health issue, an estimated 91 million working days are lost each year due to mental health, and the Centre for Mental Health estimates that the total annual cost of mental health problems at work is £26 billion.
With so much knowledge and information on the issues, why aren’t we doing more? A veil of secrecy surrounds the issue, one which means we can’t or feel unable to, talk about it openly. But not talking about it could be costly to individuals and to your business.
So what can you be doing to improve mental health in your workplace?
Firstly, what is mental health?
The first thing you need to understand is exactly what mental illness is. According to ACAS mental health conditions include:
- Bipolar Disorder
It’s also important to remember that ‘positive mental health is rarely an absolute state. One may feel in good mental health generally but also suffer stress or anxiety from time to time.’
What causes mental health issues?
When it comes to mental health issues there are a variety of possible causes. As a manager, it is important you understand which of these you can control in work, which you can try to influence and which lie beyond your control. By understanding which you can control or influence, and which you can’t, you can more comfortable address any issues. And by addressing these it breaks the cycle of silence which prevents both employees and managers from opening up.
What can you do to improve mental health in the workplace?
So now you know what mental health is and the potential causes, what can you be doing to improve mental health in your workplace?
- Communication and spotting the signs
As we mentioned there seems to be a veil of silence over the issue of mental health. Employees don’t want to talk about problems in case of any negative perceptions and employers don’t want to bring up any potential issues due to lack of expertise or experience in dealing with the issue. It's a destructive cycle.
The way to combat this is through open communication and getting to know your staff better. By fostering an open communication culture you allow people to come to you with their problems and issues aren’t left to grow and develop. This can be done in a number of ways: open door policies, feedback sessions, employee voice surveys or just being in the office more and speaking to employees, not just about work but also about wider subjects.
By being more involved with employees not only promotes communication in the workplace but it also can give you an opportunity to spot any subtle changes. Has a once talkative member of staff gone quiet all of a sudden? Has a member of staff taken more days off than usual? Has a member of staff started to become more irritated or agitated in work? By getting close to employees you may be able to spot the subtle signs of mental health issues and confidentially approach them to ensure they are happy and to reinforce that they can come to you if there are any issues you can help them with.
- Managing workloads
We are all busy people and it’s almost impossible to keep a track of your own workload, never mind other people's. Even if you do have a view on employees workloads they may have neglected to write something down or may have just made a mental note, meaning you may not have the full picture.
Having an oversight of workloads can be a good start and software such as Trello or Favro can give you sight of what work is ongoing and what people have coming up. You could go one step further and have weekly meetings about the work that is being undertaken, making sure to specifically reference if anyone has anything not mentioned on the boards. That way you can start to see if anyone is overstretched and can put steps in place to either reduce the workload, delegate it or even start to work with the employee to coach or reassure.
- Employee involvement and disclosure
Being the boss means you may feel like you need to take on all burdens of the business alone. Keeping staff in the dark about the future business direction, the most recent results and what plans you are making to bring in more business. But for the employee not being involved or not knowing the direction or goals of the business can lead to stress and anxiety. Of course, there are certain things that need to remain confidential but where possible you should get your employees involved. Before communicating the direction of the business ask for your employees' thoughts and inputs, sales results not looking great ask for employees suggestions. Getting employees involved in the company and disclosing as much information as possible means employees feel like they are part of it, they know exactly what the aims and objectives are and as a result mental wellbeing will more than likely improve.
- Employee recognition
How often do you recognise staff for the work they do for your company? It’s an important part of promoting wellbeing and everyone needs to be recognised for their efforts. Imagine working late to ensure you win a contract and never getting any recognition for your success. What about going above and beyond to ensure an event runs smoothly without so much as thanks. It can be pretty demoralising and if it continues it could lead to mental health issues, related sickness absence or your employees finding alternative employment. Whatever the outcome it's going to have a negative effect on your business
So how can you recognise workers efforts? You could start simply by just saying thank you, either verbally or via email, why not incorporate employee shoutouts into your monthly company get-togethers, you could get employees to vote on who’s gone above and beyond, incorporate company rewards or even incorporate software such as Bonusly.
- Offer support
If an employee does come to you with a mental health worry, or if you spot the early signs, it’s important to offer as much support as possible. There's a range of options available - from an informal, confidential chat right through to providing an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) to support your staff. You could also consider flexible working options to give the affected employee a little time off to seek professional mental health. Whatever route you take your employee’s health is the most important consideration and the support you offer can be invaluable in their time of need.