Reducing workplace stigma around mental ill health, and building a supportive, inclusive culture that enables employees to seek help if they need it should be a key focus for HR teams.
Although there’s been a noticeable shift over the last few decades towards greater recognition and understanding of mental health issues in the workplace, there’s still a long way to go.
A recent study of employers found that although 88 per cent believe that workers have taken time off due to their mental health in the previous 12 months, the majority of employers (79 per cent) say that employees do not always give the true reason for their absence. And a study of employees found that over two-thirds (67 per cent) of workers who have struggled with their mental health have never told an employer.
(1) Mental health training for staff
Mental health first aid courses can equip your staff to spot the signs of mental health issues and guide a colleague towards support if they need it. This isn’t about training your people to be therapists or encouraging them to diagnose their colleagues, but about giving them the tools they need to look after themselves and each other.
Providing training like this also sends a clear message to your staff that wellbeing is something that the organisation is taking seriously, and is willing to invest time and money in. The language of “first aid” for mental health underlines the idea that mental health is just as important as physical health. This can really help to encourage more open conversations within your business.
There are lots of providers of corporate mental health training, so it’s a good idea to do some research and see what best meets your organisation’s needs and goals. Some of the organisations worth exploring include Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA), Mind, Business Disability Forum and Mental Health at Work.
(2) Providing practical guidance
Alongside external training, HR teams can offer practical guidance on what to do if someone thinks their colleague is struggling to cope in the workplace. This could include recommendations for managing difficult conversations, how to offer appropriate support, and how and where to signpost someone, for example.
HR teams should offer particular guidance and support to managers so that they can deal with team members’ issues, and come up with individual action plans when needed. This could include practical changes like flexible working, or changes to workload.
(3) Policies and processes
Training and guidance should be accompanied by policies and procedures that ensure staff have the support they need, and know where to go to seek help. Regular check-ins with managers and additional support from other colleagues — perhaps in the form of buddies or mentors — can make a real difference. It’s important that people at all levels of the organisation, including managers and senior members of staff, have a support network available.
(4) Getting involved in initiatives
Facilitating conversations about mental health and wellbeing is key, so it’s a great if businesses can get involved in initiatives that aim to raise awareness and remove the stigma.
Consider getting involved in campaigns like Time to Change, which aims to end mental health discrimination. The website has a suite of tools for employers looking to enhance their mental health support, including the Time to Change Employer Pledge and Action Plan, which can help you put in place best-practice interventions and policy.
There are also several dates to add to your calendar, including Time to Talk Day, Mental Health Awareness Week and World Suicide Prevention Day. These are good vehicles for starting a conversation on mental health in the workplace, and there are lots of resources available if you want to plan a related event.
(5) Wellbeing support
Providing wellbeing benefits to your employees such as yoga classes and massages can encourage your staff to take some downtime and look after themselves, while also showing your business’ commitment to a healthy work-life balance. A strong approach to mental health isn’t just about dealing with problems, but also about preventing problems in the first place.
Encourage staff to find simple ways to take the pressure off too, for example taking a proper lunch break and going on a walk when things get stressful.
Creating more inclusive cultures
Embracing these approaches can really help to foster good mental health in the workplace and support employees who are struggling. However, this needs to be underpinned by a workplace culture that is genuinely inclusive and encourages openness. Your people need to feel like they’re in an environment where they can speak out if they need to, and won’t feel guilty if they need to take time out for their mental health.
The good news is, we’re moving in the right direction; businesses are increasingly recognizing the business case for better mental health support. The Centre for Mental Health has calculated that mental health problems in the UK workforce cost employers almost £35 billion a year, taking into account sickness absence, reduced productivity, and replacing staff who leave their jobs due to mental health problems.
A proactive approach to employee wellbeing and mental health support has a positive impact on your people, your business, and wider society. If your HR team hasn’t got a mental health plan in place yet, now’s the time to implement one.