Mental Health Awareness Week: What Employers Can Do
12 May 2017
In the UK, one in four adults will experience a mental health issue in their lifetime. This accounts for a relatively large proportion of the working demographic. Potentially, a quarter of the working population will feel the need to come in to work and disguise their feelings and struggles.
These can range from anxiety disorders to depression to personality disorders. The symptoms and side effects can be equally far ranging. From needing fresh air to being utterly unable to come in to work, there is no telling how a poor mental health day can affect the UK workforce.
That is why it is so important for employers to be forward thinking and open up a conversation about mental health. Employees should never feel ashamed or intimidated discussing any issues they may have. Everyone is entitled to understanding and compassion.
From a legal perspective, the Equality Act (2010) states that an employer should make reasonable adjustments for people with both mental and physical disabilities to ensure that they the same access to gaining and keeping employment as a non-disabled person. The Act defines a disability as a mental impairment that has substantial long-term impact on daily life.
From a business perspective, a positive approach to mental health can often lead to a reduction of staff absences and turnover. It can also increase productivity in the long term. Often, all it takes is a few small adjustments.
Here are just some of the steps an employer can take to promote better attitude to mental health within their business.
Open up the conversation
There’s no better time to encourage your employees to have a frank discussion about their mental health – good, bad or somewhere in between – than Mental Health Week. Businesses need to send a clear message to all of their staff that any discussions regarding mental health will be met with help and understanding, not discrimination. It’s key to eradicate any fear about coming forward. Treat mental health as seriously as you would a physical disability.
A recent survey revealed that one in five people felt they couldn’t tell their boss if they were overly stressed at work and less than half of people diagnosed with a mental health problem had told their manager. It no doubt stems from a fear of being treated differently by your peers. Make sure that your employees know that every discussion surrounding their mental health will be treated with the utmost respect and held in a confidential manner.
Encourage professional support
If an employee is struggling, it is important to recommend that they seek professional advice. Businesses can offer practical support within the law, but they are not trained doctors. It could be that an employee needs to visit a therapist, alter their medication or simply take some time off. You should always ensure that your employee is taking the appropriate steps to ensure that their mental health is being dealt with by a qualified professional.
Everyone’s experience of mental health is different so the key here is flexibility. Ongoing on-the-job support should be at the heart of addressing any mental health issues your employees may have. Other staff, such as the HR team, can help you develop an appropriate and compassionate approach towards making sure an employee’s work life is as stress-free as possible.
The NHS has made a number of suggestions as to how employers can make adjustments to allow someone to continue to function at work to their fullest capacity. Some of these include: Flexible working hours (a phased return to work, freedom to attend medical appointments or working from home), a positive personal environment (a clean workspace, reduced noise, a personal parking space or a place to relax and eat) and support with workload (either by reallocating their current tasks or helping them to prioritise what is needed). A peer mentor is also advised where necessary, but it truly depends on the individual and what they feel comfortable with.
Develop an action plan
Once an employee has disclosed a mental health issue or taken time off to deal with one, it’s important to put a plan in to place for their future needs. Be aware of any potential triggers, such as stress or colleague conflict, that may result in further issues. List some positive steps for the individual to take – no matter how big or small they may seem. Outline the support that you are going to provide your employee with and demonstrate to them that you are going to be patient and positive. Remember, if someone is struggling with mental health, they may only be able to perform tasks to the best of their abilities under the circumstances.
Every mental health issue affects people differently and, for that reason, each employee will have different needs. What works for some won’t work for others. The important thing is to listen to your staff and adjust accordingly.
If you are not sure what steps to take to accommodate an employee with a mental health issue, organisations like See Me Scotland are able to provide practical advice, either via their website or by making a phone call.
Like physical health, we all have mental health. It’s just that some people struggle with theirs.
Written By Mary Palmer