Mental Health in the Workplace: a company perspective

30 Jan 2018
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Helping employers help employees – which helps the business

Mental health has become big news. It’s being talked about by the medical and legal professions, the young royals, newspapers, it’s all over the internet in blogs and articles, and in institutions like the IoD and HSE. Stress is affecting many people so it is welcome that our own government is putting it high on the agenda and it is right that we should provide awareness and support for people suffering from the effects.

But how? And where is the money coming from to help people suffering physical and psychological symptoms as a result of excessive stress?
The NHS is already over-stretched and under-funded, falling back on sticky-plaster solutions like prescribing a record 64.7m antidepressants in 2016 (that’s an increase of 108.5% in the last decade) to treat a variety of mental health issues including depression, generalised anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and panic attacks. It can take months to see a psychotherapist on the NHS, in which time whatever issue you might be suffering from will probably develop into something bigger and take longer to treat, with potentially serious consequences
As part of her commitment to the mental health agenda, Theresa May commissioned a report to gauge how big the problem is and how it can be handled. The result was Thriving At Work, published in October 2017 and authored by Dennis Stevenson (mental health campaigner and former HBOS chair) and Paul Farmer (Mind CEO).
One of the big positives is that it seeks to change the culture around mental health to create a more open and understanding society. They believe that employers are well placed to have a positive impact on our lives, and by encouraging a more open environment we should see a drop in the estimated 300,000 people who leave their jobs annually due to mental health problems, and reduce the associated costs to business which stand at £42bn per year, and £99bn to the UK economy as a whole. This also alleviates the pressures on the NHS, housing and welfare benefits.
Employers are encouraged to take ownership of their employees’ mental wellbeing by implementing a number of recommendations including creating mental health at work plans, developing awareness and introducing routine monitoring of employee mental health and wellbeing.
Mental health is often seen as the ‘woolly’ side of health, after all there’s no blood on the carpet and it is often a hidden condition until something snaps. Stress in itself is not a bad thing: stress gets us up in the morning, it motivates us to achieve things, to do better, to get things done. It is only when that pressure becomes excessive, when it causes an adverse reaction, that it becomes a problem.
As a business it is not your duty to relieve all stress from employees, that in itself is an impossibility and in fact would be detrimental to the health of the company, but there are areas that can be looked at to alleviate non-productive stress.
Common causes of stress at work include the organisation culture, management practices and support, job content and demands, physical environment, relationships with fellow colleagues and customers, role conflict. We all understand that working overlong hours, having a heavy workload, tight deadlines, job insecurity, lack of proper resources or management support, harassment, discrimination, poor work relationships are all stressers. It’s not that these will never happen, but by having a policy in place a company can provide a route to discussion which otherwise might not be available, exacerbating the problem.
If an employer notices any significant changes in an employee such as changes in their emotional state, mental acuity or behaviour, that should be a trigger to investigate. Having a mental health plan in place and making sure everyone is aware of it, is not about removing the stressers per se but rather enabling people to manage their stress so they are better able to cope, have more clarity of thought which will result in better decisions, better time management and ultimately more productivity – a win-win all round.
So what can a company do to help their employees, which will also benefit them in the long term?
A good start is to engage a professional with mental health expertise to bring the issue into the open, this reassures employees that it is a valued area and allows opportunity for discussion. Considering providing extra support in terms of time off/financial assistance for psychotherapy may be appropriate in much the same way as a company may offer health cover, dental treatment or gym membership. Making it the norm to have adequate guilt-free breaks in the day, and providing relaxation audios, breathing techniques, opportunity to break away from the desk are all valuable tools in building resilience to stress.
Finally, devising a mental health at work plan which includes regular monitoring and is openly accessed will help with staff retention and recruitment, putting them firmly at the front of the organisation.
Your mental health plan should contain…
1. Make a commitment: clear message that mental health matters, visible and understandable
2. Build your approach: assess mental health of all employees, assess improvements required and identify clear objectives for development
3. Positive culture: effective management standards, work environment is conducive to promoting healthy behaviour and limiting potential to cause ill-health, enable social activities/out of work activities/volunteering, provide appropriate avenues and frequency of communication
4. Support and training: information is freely shared, easily accessed. Line managers to receive training and employees educated to recognise signs
5. Managing mental health: proactive approach to ending the stigma, mental health discussed openly, employees supported to reduce potential of experience stress and organisational changes made where risks are identified that may lead to stress or other mental health issues
6. Providing the right support: managers trained and confident in handling sensitive conversations, organisation prepared to make adjustments to work patterns/structures, provide confidential support
7. Helping people to recover: support employees who take time off work due to mental ill health, appropriate return plans and adjustments made
8. Going further: staff consultations, action plans to address major issues, regularly evaluation approach, reporting back to employees on progress
If you would like help with addressing mental health in the workplace, please get in touch. We can arrange a meeting for a free assessment and discuss how your employees would benefit which in turn can improve productivity and reduce costs – and make your organisation a better place to work in: or tel. 01798 344879

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