In light of Mental Health Awareness Week taking place this week (11-17 May), Jayne Carrington, managing director of Right Management Workplace Wellness, offers the following advice to organisations looking to support employees with mental health issues…
Currently, mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and unmanageable stress affect one in six British workers each year. While the health of individuals is of paramount importance, it can also have a staggering effect on business productivity: The Mental Health Foundation estimates that stress-related sickness can cost an estimated £4 billion annually. Organisations have to think smarter about building stronger support systems for their employees.
At Right Management Workplace Wellness, we’ve just celebrated our one year anniversary of joining the Mental Health: We’re Ready to Talk business-led campaign, in which we pledged to change our approach to mental health in the workplace. Since signing on, we’ve been able to demonstrate to our employees, and other organisations, that mental health needs to be taken incredibly seriously. This week we’re encouraging employers to think about how they can better support employees with mental health issues:
Create a culture of openness
Developing a ‘we can talk’ culture around employee wellbeing and making time to listen is extremely important. Organisations should look to sustain the culture of openness to ensure that stressed or anxious employees feel comfortable approaching their employers. Given the spirit of an organisation starts at the top, leadership should ensure that they are promoting positive messages about employee health and wellbeing and demonstrating a commitment to supporting staff with mental ill-health.
Work closely with GPs and occupational health teams
It is important to link up with GPs and/or Occupational Health departments, particularly when dealing with employees with severe mental health problems. By teaming up with external agencies, HR teams are able to support line managers addressing sensitive situations with the best information and professional resource. Training for line managers also helps to develop confidence and competence around having the first discussion with the employee around mental health. By introducing the topic with the words “I notice”, managers can easily show that they are interested in, and care about, the individual. It’s the role of the manager to manage the person, not their health condition.
Consider other workplace factors
Focusing on individual cases is useful, but shouldn’t be the only approach to creating a healthy workplace. Taking a step back to ask, “What are we doing that encourages good or bad health at work?” is also important. We have found that even slight adjustments to the setup or structure of the working environment can help individuals be productive and feel more focused. There is a great deal of good research, best practice and published case studies available to help employers, large and small. Mental health is also moving up the policy agenda across government – these are all hugely positive changes and every step forward makes a difference.”