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Mental health problems are common, experienced by up to one in four of the population. Problems are often hidden, stigma is still widespread and many people do not receive adequate support from services.

Mental health problems often start early in life and can be prevented through creating mentally healthy environments in schools, neighbourhoods and workplaces and in providing services to individuals and families that promote mental health, help identify signs and symptoms early on and access support when needed.

The Government announced at the end of October positive action by investing circa £2billion into services surrounding mental health, including in schools and dedicated ambulances. For more information click here.

Businesses rely on having a healthy and productive workforce. Conditions like anxiety, depression and unmanageable stress are experienced by one in six British workers each year. In the past five years, employers have cited stress as the number one reason given by employees who take time off work.

There are actions we can take in the workplace to address this and really help employees feel individually supported and listened to by you, their employer:

1. Promote Well-being at Work through feedback mechanisms, good communications and positive working relationships.

Encouraging a good work/life balance, developing good communication, supporting flexible working practices and even social activities are also important.  Breaks and holidays should be honoured.  People have time and energy for all aspects of life.

Speak regularly with team members to check how they’re doing and to reflect on what might be causing them stress. You can do this at a team level by adding a standing item to team meetings where people talk about well-being and stress as a group. Building checks into the organisation’s culture in this way can:-

  • Promote open dialogue and embed positive attitudes and behaviours
  • Help to normalise conversations about mental health
  • Help staff to think more about their own and colleagues’ mental health and what factors can affect this.

Raising awareness and promoting discussion of mental health and well-being also drives engagement, helps to overcome prejudice and means that employees will be more likely to disclose issues sooner.

2. Provide Training for your Managers

This will help them to build their capability to support their staff and manage their workloads and objectives; plus training to recognise mental health problems and support staff. Effective managers will create opportunities for coaching and learning, and promote a culture of open dialogue; all of which helps to boost staff mental well-being and employee engagement levels.

Remember the potential triggers: long hours and no breaks, unrealistic expectations or deadlines, high-pressure environments, unmanageable workloads, poor communication and job insecurity.  Work should be able to be accomplished successfully and on time with the necessary resources made available.  It should be safe and expected to talk about any difficulties and seek solutions jointly. Co-workers should notice when someone is struggling, are willing to ask, show they care and help find solutions flexibly.

3.    Check out Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP)

These are often available through your legal or insurance providers and there are some zero cost options too – make sure everyone knows how to contact them! Promoting well-being and tackling the causes of mental health problems will create an environment where staff can feel confident to talk to their manager.

If mental health problems are suspected or disclosed, the first step is to establish honest, open communication with the employee, and this should be maintained if people take time off for sickness absence. If possible, the frequency of contact should be agreed before someone takes time off.

Small businesses can access the free Health for Work Adviceline service provided by NHS occupational health services. For more information visit www.mind.org.uk  or for any advice call the legal advice line.

The risks of not taking positive action:

Reduced productivity

Workers may come to work even though they are unwell because they are concerned that if they disclose a mental health problem, they will face prejudice. Reduced productivity costs UK businesses up to £15.1 billion a year.  Stress and other mental health problems are the second biggest cause of work absence, accounting for circa 70 million lost working days every year.

Increased recruitment costs

Valued employees are lost when employers do not invest in mental health. Staff turnover because of employees leaving their jobs due to mental health problems costs around £2.4 billion each year.

Increased conflict at work

Stress and mental health problems can lead to costly and time-consuming work conflict. Stress is the second biggest cause – employees spend a day a month dealing with it. Using your discipline and grievance procedures can be long winded, frustrating and negative – quite the reverse of what the business needs.

Legal risks

An expensive and time consuming list of the outcome if things go wrong: Discrimination claims, negligence (personal injury) claims, breach of health and safety duties, even unfair/constructive dismissal. Putting in the effort up front to make sure you do not reach these costly processes surely makes sense.

Please get in touch with us if you have any questions or need guidance on anything you have read on this topic, or any others.

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