How to... Manage mental health in your workplace

Written by: Alexander Garrett Posted: 30/04/2021

After more than a year of the pandemic, with many people feeling isolated working from home and others struggling to manage family responsibilities such as home tuition alongside their normal workload, mental health has become a concerning issue for many organisations. How can you support your people to deal with the stress and get back on an even keel? 

BL652_howto_listenMake the business case 
Before you do anything else, make mental health a priority for your organisation by building a business case. In the UK, the Mental Health Foundation estimates 70 million working days are lost each year due to mental health, costing £70bn-£100bn. “It’s vital to get buy-in from senior leadership and make sure conversations about mental health and wellbeing happen at board level,” says MHF. “Be prepared to make the business case and have figures to back this up – figures on staff turnover and morale – and bring relevant feedback from exit interviews.”

Create a mental health plan 
This could be an ongoing plan or for the duration of the pandemic. Either way, charity Mind says it should include: how you will promote the wellbeing of staff; tackling work-related causes; how you will support staff; sources of information and support available; and acknowledging what is expected of employees. As a starting point, you need a robust system of reporting sickness, absence and wellbeing, adapted to the current mode of working. “Organisations that make use of paper return-to-work forms and face-to-face meetings will need to consider digital alternatives, as well as considering accurate ways to report new reasons for absence,” says Mind.

BL652_howto_brainEstablish an open culture 
It’s important to maintain a positive culture where people feel able to talk about their mental health without stigma, says Mind. “This is more important than ever as employees are likely to be experiencing a range of different interconnected issues; including money worries, caring for others, but also increased feelings of loneliness and isolation due to social distancing.” Mental Health Awareness Week in May is a good time to launch your initiative and get people talking about the subject.

Take the temperature 
Carry out an anonymous survey to gauge your people’s wellbeing, ask them to score their mental health, and gain intelligence on any work-related causes of stress. That will give you a baseline from which to monitor whether mental wellbeing is deteriorating or improving with regular follow-up surveys. 

Take action 
Work-related stress can be reduced or eliminated by taking measures against the factors that are causing it. Conflict at work is one significant cause of stress and poor mental wellbeing, according to the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development. “CIPD research shows that the most common impact of conflict at work is that people find it stressful – underlining the need for employers to foster healthy working environments with a zero-tolerance approach to bullying,” says the body. “The impact of conflict at work also tends to be felt beyond the individuals in dispute, with the performance of wider teams potentially affected – for example, by employees feeling they are covering for a colleague or if conflict leads to increased absence.” Other workplace causes of stress include unrealistic deadlines, employees not being given a clear understanding of their role, and giving people responsibilities beyond their experience. 

BL652_howto_teamLook for problems 
Managers should be trained to be on the lookout for employees who are experiencing problems. That could be seen in prolonged absence, or conversely in some cases in presenteeism, with people working long hours and not taking breaks. When people are working from home, get your managers to contact each of their reports on a regular basis for an informal chat, and make sure they ask how they are feeling.

Provide support 
The CIPD recommends that you have a confidential dialogue with anyone who discloses that they are having mental health problems, and ask them what support they think they need. Then work with the team member to develop an individual action plan, which identifies the nature of the problem, the triggers for stress, who they should contact in a crisis, and what other support they need. The CIPD says: “The plan should include an agreed time to review the support measures to check if they have been effective or whether any further adjustments are needed.”

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