We all know that when we have to take a day off sick, we are costing our employer money. An entire day spent at home, tucked up under the duvet in our beds; can be an expensive business to our bosses. Of course, we all get poorly from time to time. Sickness bugs and flu viruses get passed around the office no matter how much hand sanitiser we seem to use, bones get broken and accidents happen.
1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health issue this year.
An article in Forbes published on 17th April 2019 stated that ‘91 million workdays are lost in the UK due to symptoms of mental illness’ and that ‘mental health problems in the workplace cost the economy approximately £70 billion annually.’ It’s clear then that mental health problems are a significant; and costly issue.
If you are an employer, you should never underestimate the importance of supporting your people with their mental health. If you start to get it right, you will be investing in a happier, healthier and far more productive workforce.
Can you talk about how you are feeling?
So, should you get our Freud on and start delving into your employee’s mental health as soon as possible? Should you get them laid out on the sofa one by one and begin picking your way through their most painful childhood memories?
Let’s talk about the best ways for you to have effective and meaningful conversations with your staff about mental health. It’s easier than you may think; sometimes these things will happen naturally through a simple culture change.. It’s really important to note that these kinds of conversations are difficult for both parties. You may feel awkward about asking someone on your team about their mental health. Consider as well, that what goes on in our heads is potentially the most personal thing that we could ever disclose. Especially if those thoughts are irrational or unhelpful or perhaps a source of shame.
Where do you start if you want to try to explain to your boss about the things going on in your head; if you don’t fully understand them yourself?
The truth is that a lot of people don’t. They may choose instead to suffer in silence or to disguise the real reason they were forced to take a sick day. For some, self-certifying a sick day saying they had explosive diarrhoea may be far more preferable than admitting to struggling with debilitating anxiety.
Mental Health Issues at Work
We cannot ignore that it can be work itself which can often be the root cause of our employee’s stress and mental ill health.
Mental Health issues account for almost half of work-related ill health cases. The Health and Safety Executive published some statistics on ‘Work related stress depression or anxiety’ in October 2018 which confirmed that ‘in 2017/18 stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 44% of all work-related ill health cases and 57% of all working days lost due to ill health.’
We get stressed about unrealistic deadlines, mounting workload pressure, increasing targets, work life balance (or lack thereof), poor management and interpersonal conflicts.
Maybe if there was more readily available and robust support in place in the workplace to help employees cope with these types of issues then perhaps 15.4 million workdays wouldn’t be lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety like they were in 2017/18 (according to the Labour Force Survey).
It doesn’t get much more serious
Let’s face the facts. Mental Health issues kill.
That’s why this issue really needs your attention. The Samaritans publish an annual Suicide Statistics Report which proves to be a sobering and upsetting read. In 2018 The Samaritans confirmed that deaths by suicide rose by 11.8% in the UK in 2018 and the rate of deaths among under 25’s increased by 23.7%. In the UK, men are three times as likely to die by suicide than women and sadly the highest suicide rate is among men aged 45-49.
Are you doing enough to help support your male employees to ask for help, if they need it?
What can we actually do to help?
As an employer you can do so much to help. You can make a real positive difference for your people by making mental health a priority.
No one is expecting you to become a counsellor. With some real focus, you could become the kind of employer that stands by their employees when they are experiencing mental health problems. You can be there to help support them back into work and back to peak performance.
You will soon see that by investing in your people this way will increase your
- employee’s productivity,
- engagement which is a huge return on investment for your business.
Practical Steps to take:
Be open and transparent about your new commitment to supporting your people with their mental health.
- Tell your staff about it in meetings,
- send a group email around,
- publish literature that your staff can see around your workplace – which enforces that supporting mental health is a value in your workplace. This will also help to ‘normalise’ the term.
- Focus on creating an open environment which welcomes and encourages healthy conversations about mental health.
- Provide information on where your staff can obtain professional mental health support if they would prefer not to speak about it at work.
- Have an ‘open door policy’. If your staff need to talk; will you or someone else be readily available to speak with them?
Be as flexible as you can to accommodate those who are struggling with mental health issues. Employers must make reasonable adjustments to make sure workers with disabilities, or physical or mental health conditions. Employees cannot be disadvantaged in their roles. Often these adjustments are small, simple, practical and cost effective but can have a huge lasting positive impact for an employee.
It’s always helpful to think outside the box and work closely with your employee to find the best way to make reasonable adjustments for both of you. Can workloads be amended? Can shifts be more flexible or working from home days be offered?
If this is all quite new for your workplace then introducing training to your staff to begin a general conversation around mental health is a great idea.
Organisations such as Mind; can offer training to your staff to help increase their awareness of mental health. They can also help to provide more practical strategies which can be used to support colleagues who may be struggling with mental health issues.
Mental Health Champions
Do you have any employees who are passionate about mental health? Perhaps you could introduce a ‘mental health champion’ role where colleagues can ‘step up’ and pioneer raising awareness and support across your business.
You could also introduce ‘Mental Health First Aiders’ to your staff. Any of your team members can go through formal training to become Mental Health First Aiders. MHFA England is the only provider of licensed Mental Health First Aid Instructor Training in England. This is a fantastic development opportunity for staff and also a role which could become invaluable to your team.
Is there somewhere in your workplace where staff can go to have some quiet time to reflect? A place where they can gather their thoughts if things ever get too much? Or a dedicated well being space to talk about how they are feeling?
Ask your people!
Start a conversation. Ask for feedback. Begin talking to your staff and ask what more you can do, as an employer, to help support with them with their mental health. Your team may have a wealth of fantastic suggestions and ideas that you can put in place straight away.
If you would like more practical tips on how to implement a positive work culture and support those with mental health, download our FREE guide here.