Mental health awareness in the workplace is growing, but sadly studies show that the stigma surrounding mental health issues is still very prominent. As many as 67% of people who have struggled with poor mental wellbeing have never told their employers (Opinium, 2019).
Why is this important for employers?
With mental health problems costing employers almost £35 billion a year in the UK, according to the Centre for Mental Health, organisations would be wise to explore what they can do to reduce these issues in the workplace.
So, how can HR ensure employees maintain good mental health?
1. Assess the current situation
Before putting forward new company policies and processes for tackling mental health concerns, take a step back to see the current state of your organisation and staff.
What existing processes are in place? You may find that you already have good procedures, but they are underutilised, or staff are unaware of what guidance or support is available to them. Consider sending out a survey to staff to learn about the general wellbeing of your workforce and to gauge where support may be lacking.
You might also want to look at employee absences for trends that may be signs of underlying mental health issues. Assessing employee absence data is a good way to start if you’re looking for areas to work on, e.g. a department with the most absences might have stress-inducing risks like being understaffed and overworked, and/or having poor management support.
2. Dismantle the stigma
A mental health initiative should always include efforts to dismantle the stigma that revolves around this subject. How can you support overall mental wellbeing at work when workers don’t feel comfortable raising their concerns, or if managers are reluctant to discuss mental health for fear of causing offence?
Reassure employees by creating an environment that openly discusses the topic of mental health. Promote policies and put practices in place by uploading guidelines on your cloud HR system for employees to access directly, distribute informative posters or leaflets around the office, or send out a staff email blast to encourage healthy wellbeing. Choose the method that best fits your workplace culture so that it doesn’t come off forced or ingenuine.
3. Train staff on mental health first aid
Just as all companies must have an employee trained in physical first aid, they should also have someone trained in mental health first aid. Employees will be better equipped to deal with mental health issues if they know how to spot problems early on or have someone to go to for help when they need it. Training managers on how to handle sensitive conversations can empower them to provide or guide staff to the appropriate support. Employees will then feel safe in talking about their concerns and be sure that they will be listened to.
4. Encourage a ‘closed door’ policy
When it comes to conversations between staff, most companies encourage their leaders to have an ‘open door’ policy, which implies employees can approach them at any time to seek advice. But in practice, this is not easy to carry out and can actually give added pressure for both parties in finding the right time to discuss sensitive and personal topics. Not only does it interrupt their workflows, disrupting productivity, but an employee who is struggling with a mental health issue doesn’t need the extra pressure in finding the right timing to speak.
Creating a ‘closed door’ practice allows the employee and line manager (or the HR team) to put aside time intentionally. This practice is like that at university between a professor and their students: a student would set up a meeting during the professor’s office hours to discuss their progress, ask questions and seek advice. This allows the professor to put all their focus on that student and hear out their concerns and advise them appropriately. A ‘closed door’ policy is beneficial in the workplace as staff can communicate effectively in complete confidentiality.
5. Promote healthy physical wellbeing
We all know the mind and body are connected, so good physical health can have a positive impact on mental wellbeing. Encourage staff to develop healthy working habits like taking breaks from the computer screen, going for walks during lunch breaks, or to create their own after-work sports activities. Engaging your staff to build habits for a healthier lifestyle can lessen exposure to the risks of poor mental health.
6. Support a good work-life balance
Work-related stress is the most common cause of poor mental health amongst the working-age group. It makes sense; a substantial portion of adult life is spent working. The good news is that stress can be tackled. By creating a workplace culture that promotes a better work-life balance and that avoids employee burnout and stress, the negative impact on mental health can be prevented. Ensure that employees are making full use of their holiday entitlements and embrace a flexible working culture, so employees can make arrangements where they can work at their best, which is beneficial for your organisation, too.