As we enter a third UK lockdown, for many people mental health has never been so important. According to a recent report by Aviva, over half of employees felt they were neglecting their physical and mental health because of work pressures. Similarly, over 40% said they were concerned by the blurring of work and home life.
Employers have a duty of care for their employees’ health, safety and welfare, although this is harder than ever thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic and the challenges of managing risks in the workplace or a remote workforce now working from home. Yes, employers are facing many challenges, frustrations and concerns but neglecting your employees’ mental health risks damaging productivity, staff retention and even your business reputation.
A happy workforce is a productive and motivated workforce. Business owners and managers know the impact on the team if someone is miserable. But what if staff are hiding mental health problems out of anxiety that they might be judged, discriminated, or even terminated? Those suffering from mental ill health may fear the worst, however irrational.
The 2020 health and wellbeing report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that virtual ‘presenteeism’ (people working when unwell) and ‘leaveism’ (working out of hours or when on leave) are both rising significantly as workers worry about their financial security.
What can employers do to nurture mental health?
A proactive and preventative approach to promoting good mental health is best, rather than reacting as issues come up. Employers can help:
- Senior management should take the lead in fostering a positive approach towards mental health and creating an open environment where employees can discuss mental health.
- Regular informal and confidential one-to-ones with managers should give employees an opportunity to open up about mental health issues they are dealing with. These are vital for homeworkers who may be feeling isolated or overwhelmed, which is harder to spot when you are not in the same office. Training managers is key so that they feel confident to offer individual support to reduce anxiety or work-related stress.
- Design effective policies on mental health and wellbeing – and don’t forget to communicate these clearly to employees.
- Wellbeing benefits can promote good mental health, for example an Employee Assistance Programme, counselling, life assurance and private medical insurance. Health-improving benefits such as subsidised gym membership, meditation apps like Headspace for Work, eyecare benefits, free fruit, flu injections and health screening have become more popular.
Wellbeing benefits aim not just to incentivise staff, but also to reduce absenteeism by encouraging staff to stay healthy. Make sure you communicate to employees about the wellbeing benefits on offer, so they take advantage of them.
What should I do if an employee has a mental health issue?
Prevention is of course better, but if an employee discloses a mental health condition to you, ask open and non-judgemental questions. Find out the facts without making assumptions, so that you can be flexible in how you support their needs. A tailored, individual approach is more effective than ‘one-size-fits-all’.
Equally if an employee does not want to discuss their mental health, wait for them to be ready. Forcing them to talk about the issue when they are not comfortable can make things worse. Instead, reassure them that you are open to an honest conversation and happy to support them through any difficult periods.
Once the employee has raised a mental health issue with you, develop a support and action plan together to enable them to continue working effectively while ensuring their wellbeing. There may be much you can do to relieve some of their stress, such as encouraging them to access support or contact a doctor, or making reasonable adjustments – the action plan will very much depend on their particular circumstances.
Set a date to review the action plan in case more changes need to be made. Perhaps changing job role or hours temporarily might help reduce their stress? Do remember that the employee should not feel penalised in any way.
For expert HR advice or support, contact our HR consultants at Business Garage on [email protected]
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Mind, a mental health charity, is a good starting point to access support: https://www.mind.org.uk/