Mental health exists on a spectrum and we all move back and forth between good and not so good
Mental health charity Mind knows that one in six workers is currently dealing with a mental health problem such as anxiety, depression or stress, and this can impact their wellbeing, as well as their performance and productivity. Positively managing and supporting your staff’s mental health is not only good for your employees, but it’s also good for your business. Taking a few simple and inexpensive steps to support staff mental health can have the following benefits: increase productivity and performance; increase profits and reduce business costs; improve staff morale; reduce sickness absence and staff turnover; improve your reputation as an employer; and help to honour your duty of care as an employer.
We recommend a three-pronged approach to supporting staff mental health. Firstly, you can take some simple steps to promote wellbeing. Introduce flexible working and allow employees to change shifts if they need to provide childcare, or provide opportunities for staff training and development. Encourage your staff to take breaks and model this yourself – your employees won’t feel able to go for a walk at lunchtime if you never leave the building.
Secondly, it’s important to encourage communication so that you can tackle the causes of mental ill health. Encourage your staff to fill in a Wellness Action Plan (WAP), which you can find online at www.mentalhealthatwork.org.uk. This helps to open up the conversation around mental health, and it’s also a good way to identify triggers that might cause employees to struggle. Listen to staff when they explain the root causes of their stress, and do what you can to alleviate them. For example, if staff have been working long hours to meet a deadline, think of a way to reward them and show your appreciation. In the happiest workplaces, staff report feeling valued and appreciated.
Finally, show your support to members of staff who are unwell. Look out for any changes in behaviour that might indicate there’s a problem, such as a usually chatty and outgoing person becoming quiet and withdrawn. We all tend to say that we’re ‘fine’ when people ask how we are, so don’t be afraid to ask again if you suspect that something’s wrong. Do your best to listen and try not to make assumptions. Aim to treat a mental health issue in the same way that you would a physical illness, so direct your employee to their GP or help them to access support. If they take time off, check in with them on a regular basis, as this can help to reassure them that you’re standing by them and want them to return to work when they’re feeling better. It’s also helpful to plan a phased return plan, as it can be daunting to come back after a leave of absence.
In 2017, the government commissioned an independent review of mental health at work. This sets out six mental health core standards for employers to adopt to support their employee’s mental health. No matter what your workplace type or size, we recommend that all employers adopt each of these: produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan; develop mental health awareness among employees; encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available; provide your employees with good working conditions and ensure they have a good work/life balance and opportunities for development; promote effective people management; and routinely monitor employee mental health.
As well as looking after your employees, it’s vital to pay attention to your own mental health. If you can learn how to recognise your own triggers, you can then take steps to improve your own sense of wellbeing. For example, you might find that regular exercise or a few small changes to your working day can help you to feel better. Even if you’re the CEO, you can access help and support from your GP, talk to your family and friends about how you’re feeling and take steps to improve your working environment.
Laura Johnson is head of workplace wellbeing programmes at Mind. You can find out more about establishing a mentally healthy workplace at www.mentalhealthatwork.org, where you’ll find resources and ‘toolkits’ that are designed to help small businesses.