time to focus on mental health in your workplace
the importance of mental health in the office.
By Ella Bowman, Paws in Work Mental Health Blogger
As we explored in our last blog, supporting staff through mental health difficulties can save businesses money. It’s not something companies can shy away from given the statistics: with approximately 1 in 4 people experiencing a mental health issue in the UK each year, the likelihood is that it is affecting all businesses.
HR departments won’t be strangers to the issues, but with mental health struggles manifesting in a broad spectrum of ways, it’s hard to give a hard-and-fast solution to addressing it in the workplace without some time and focus.
How do you support a workforce through the on-going demands of their personal lives, just anyway? We’re all only human after all and illness, parental leave, bereavement, hiring, firing, handing in notices: it’s all part and parcel of a company’s history. Smart or fortunately flexible companies can have this written into their plans, but what if belts are tight, resources are few and a team member is suffering poor mental health: how can you be supportive as well as look after the interests of your business? Where do you begin?
Remembering that unsupported mental health at work can dramatically syphon company money: presenteeism (reduced productivity at work) accounts for twice the losses of absences and every year it costs business £1,300 per employee whose mental health needs are unsupported.
believe in what you're saying.
Companies are inclined to promise themselves as a safe space for staff members to talk about their mental health; to appear to care for their team’s well-being. I’m optimistic about the intentions behind it: people do want the best for their staff. A happy, healthy workforce is more productive in the long-term, after all. But it’s crucial to understand what you’re really saying when you communicate to teams the importance of their mental health. Be prepared to show you mean it and be prepared for the needs you would be supporting. And remember: a good company ethos towards mental health isn’t as demanding as asking managers and HR teams to become therapists.
the lesson is: listen.
No matter how busy you yourself are (are you stressed? Your own mental health is a priority, too) taking time to listen empathetically to your staff is a helpful way to establish open and understanding courses of action. Small changes can add positively to the whole. Take a walk around the park, or in a coffee shop away from the office, and speak human-to-human, asking questions like: what are your biggest concerns? What would help you today? What can I do in the longer term? I’m grateful you’ve taken this huge step to talk with me about this: what other help are you planning to get? By having a workforce comfortable enough to talk about mental health, you can encourage people to get early support and likely keep you in the loop, too. (Checking in with your employees outside of annual review season is unequivocally worthwhile, just generally. Those that feel heard at work are nearly 5 times more likely to produce their best work. )
and then what?
Be passionate about positive change: what incremental steps can be taken to improve any situation? Showing you are there to work with your team members to help them through their next steps -- whether they are well enough to brave a face-to-face in the office; vulnerable and working flexibly so welcoming a check-in call or an email; or taking sick leave and grateful for a thoughtful text. This will help to reiterate that they are ill (they are) and not in lonely exile from the world (though it can feel this way).
Do some research yourself. There are helpful services to help guide your wellness strategy and those that provide helpful advice for you, your business and your direct report. You’ll get some useful pointers at the end of this post.
Consider, too, the rest of the business in this scenario: the trust that your direct report is giving you in speaking openly about their experiences is not only brave but certainly something to uphold. Maintain confidentiality and, if it is necessary to account for any behaviour or absences to the wider team, then consult the individual about how they would like this handled.
This blog serves mostly to reiterate the considerations that companies need to have to support workplace mental health, and I mentioned in last week’s post that kick-starting a workplace wellness program is an excellent place to begin. 89% of staff are more likely to recommend their place of work if it has a wellness initiative, meaning it makes good business sense from the off. And when the wellness initiative involves a litter of puppies coming into your office, it’s hard to imagine what else could be more soothing of workplace stress outside of a beach-side piña colada and an out-of-office.
Think, too, what you’d yourself like from a manager: consistency, encouragement, acknowledgement, levity only when appropriate. Provide your reports with the pastoral care that will help them flourish when they are well and regroup when they aren’t.
And this all, part of a bigger training picture, training managers in how mental health difficulties can impact people’s behaviour. Having some Mental Health First Aiders on staff can really signpost good leadership and incubate a strong and reciprocal company culture. Make it strong work, not hard work.
For a more in-depth understanding of how to support a member of staff through mental health difficulties, then Mind have many resources, one especially of which was used in research for this post.
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Over the past few years, more and more workplaces have been adopting a dog friendly policy, allowing pets to come into the office! Here is our blog on why we think it's a great idea to allow dogs into your workplace!