Mental health awareness for employers

Do you know the best way to support people at work if they have mental health struggles?

Did you know that an estimated 54% of all working days lost in the UK are down to mental ill-health, mainly depression, anxiety & stress. (HSE 2019)  Yet managers and business owners still seem genuinely scared to take action, to start conversations, to be more proactive and initiate some kind of cultural change. 

All managers have a duty of care to their employees but it’s hard to take action if you are worried about saying or doing the right thing, or even concerned you may say the wrong thing and make things worse.

Mental health awareness plays a big part in our lives now, with awareness days, weeks and months, high profile campaigns, charities for all manner of mental health conditions and challenges and so much more.  The recent pandemic has served as a vehicle to further highlight the importance of looking after our mental health yet we still seem far from where we need to be.

Stigma, whilst much better than even 5 years ago, is still very much prevalent in our society – particularly in the workplace.  Employers have an amazing opportunity to change that, to start a new narrative around proactive solutions that help build resilience, improve mental health, encourage more positive and supportive cultures that encourage open conversations. 

If all employers took on this opportunity just think how transformational this would be for all of us.

Educate:

We can’t even hope to understand and make changes without first really understanding what mental health is and how it affects people.  From training to coaching, on general mental health information right through to coping strategies and well-being initiatives – the more knowledge people have the more they are equipped to help themselves and subsequently support others.

Encourage:

Sometimes we all need a gentle nudge in the right direction, encouraging people to talk when they are struggling might seem intrusive or a can of worms you don’t want to open – but it is widely accepted that talking (especially early on) is one of the most effective ways to stop mental health problems from escalating.  They don’t even have to talk to you, encourage the use of services such as their GP, helplines such as the Samaritans or even offer coaching/counselling as an employee benefit.  Encouragement can also come in the form of more proactive group activities.  You could put on a lunchtime mindfulness session, daily walks, maybe an afternoon off for some fun group activities every now and again.  In fact, get your employees to come up with their own ideas  – it can be a real boost to have your contribution acted upon.

Embed:

Any strategies you come up with make sure to embed them into your company culture.  Rules such as no emails after 6pm, no lunch breaks at your desk are great for fostering and encouraging those necessary breaks.  Make sure your policies work to support these strategies,  for example, include wellbeing as part of their annual review. Look at flexible working/remote working if appropriate.  These are just a few ideas – I’m sure you and your team could come up with many others.

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