How comfortable are you with discussing your employees’ mental health?
Some practical advice on how managers create a positive culture around mental wellbeing in the workplace and tips on initiating employee mental health conversations.
We all require good mental health, in much the same way that we should look after our physical health. Almost 50% of UK adults are believed to have suffered from some sort of diagnosable mental health condition at some stage in their life. It is, therefore, important that people managers are able to engage in dialogue about the subject and, just as importantly, feel comfortable doing so, says Emma Bullen, HR Services Manager at MHR.
There are host of warning signs to keep an eye out for when identifying mental health conditions among your staff, such as uncharacteristic or erratic behaviour, dips in productivity and frequent sickness.
According to research carried out by Mind, less than half of people who had been diagnosed with a mental health condition had told their manager about it. Employee’s will often disguise their reason for absence, so managers need to monitor the signs of absence and act accordingly. Employers can help the situation by creating a culture, which should be led from the top, the supports people being open about their mental health. Staff need feel assured that their mental health will be taken seriously.
Mental health strategies
Clear mental health strategies and policies will illustrate to employees that there is support in place should they need it. A good place to start is making yourself open and approachable, normalising conversations about mental health and holding regular catch-ups with employees to build trust. Although a dauting prospect, basic managerial skills are often all that is required to undertake this task.
The first step when tackling employee mental health, is to simply ask them how they are doing. As a manager, you will know your own team better than anyone else in the organisation, which is a vital attribute for creating a worthwhile discussion with them. Offering open communication will help you understand the employee’s situation and put the necessary support plan in place for their wellbeing.
Location is key
The workplace can be a stressful environment, so choose a suitable location is key. Taking the conversation off-site is preferable.
Once the conversation begins, remain open and non-judgmental, giving the employee an opportunity to put their feelings into words without making assumptions about their condition or symptoms. It is important that managers actively listen and take a flexible approach to the employee’s requirements for support. Equally important is that the manager is comfortable to be honest about any absence or performance problems, so that these can also be addressed.
If and when the employee is ready, the manager should work with them to develop a support and action plan to enable the employee to maintain a good standard of performance while ensuring their wellbeing. This should include provisions for the employee to seek external help from their GP or through an Employee Assistance Programme if your organisation has one in place. A date should also be agreed to review the action plan and whether or not the support is sufficient.
Remember, if the employee is not ready to talk about their mental health when you approach them, you should not force the issue. Instead, giving the employee reassurance that you are accessible to them if and when they wish to have a discussion sends a powerful message that you are interested in their wellbeing.
Of course, there are actions that employers should take in order to prevent work from becoming a trigger for poor mental health, and holding conversations around the topic is not the overall solution but it is a stage that employers cannot afford to overlook.
Ultimately, mental health problems need to be taken seriously by your business, and while you can’t fix the problems your employees face, you can offer support and guidance – that’s the difference between success and failure in supporting your people.
Holding regular catch-ups with staff will enable managers to monitor anything which might be affecting them and, if needs be, thier work capacity can be reviewed, says Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Specialist, Paula Whelan from Righttrack Learning. Emotional strain resulting from issues outside of the work place might mean a colleague is not able to function and complete tasks to the same standard as before, so extend grace to them and focus on what they can achieve rather than what they can’t.
Of course, don’t offer what is not possible according to company policy, but do ensure that reasonable adjustments are made so that as few barriers remain to their recovery as possible. This could include changing their working hours or patterns of work; giving them a place to go for their break; modifying sickness absence triggers and performance targets. Consideration for a person’s situation goes a long way and will in the long run contribute to increased employee loyalty.
World Mental Health Day
Get Your Free Ticket to Jonny Wilkinson's Talk at Safety & Health Expo 2019
Arguably one of the best-known rugby players in the world, Jonny Wilkinson CBE famously kicked the drop goal that won England the 2003 World Cup with just seconds left in the final. Much of Jonny’s success on the field, however, took its psychological toll. Jonny has dealt with depression, anxiety and panic attacks. In his honest, unguarded speech, entitled ‘Success on the field and mental health: a personal account of understanding what matters’, Jonny will recount how his focus and dedication to the sport he loves meant overlooking important parts of his life.