More than ever, the term ‘mental health’ is one we’re used to hearing referenced among friends, family – and yes, co-workers. Indeed, the consequence of the pandemic on our mental health has been one of the biggest talking points to run alongside the saga of the virus threat itself.
As recently as this month, research commissioned by the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities has revealed that nearly half (49%) of adults in England said the Covid-19 crisis had a negative impact on their mental well-being.
Shockingly, however, the same investigation identified that 34% (15.1 million) felt they ‘did not know’ what to do to help improve their mental wellbeing.
This data alone tells us that at any one time, many thousands of our colleagues and employees are contending with struggles that they are, to a greater or lesser extent, having to manage alongside performing their workplace role.
Writing about mental health impact on businesses in September this year, Paul Scully MP cited that poor mental health costs employers between £33 billion and £42 billion a year.
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So where does this leave today’s employer?
Where does the mental health status of a member of staff become the responsibility of you as a business leader or manager?
Under the Health and Safety at Work Act, you have a legal responsibility to provide an appropriate work environment, and as such, to ensure that everything within your power is being done to recognise both the mental and physical needs of your workforce.
Given our recent experiences over the last 18 months, it’s therefore inescapable that you would want to be aware of the potential consequences or challenges which may have befallen any individual on your payroll – from being bereaved, seeing fractures in family life, feeling the impact of prolonged isolation, or even dipping into burnout after a chaotic period of home-working and over-performing alongside childcare and other family life demands.
Becoming an employer who manages issues of mental health well, begins with a clearly apparent attitude and underlying culture which enables your staff to feel that mental health matters and will always be treated with fairness – never with discrimination or neglect.
It’s on you as the business owner to embed that approach, to ensure that it is understood firm-wide, and to consistently look at how you might be doing things even better, in terms of enabling employees to feel they can communicate issues, and that they will receive full support.
You might want to consider training, for yourself, but also for your employees. Mental health first aid courses are now freely available around the country and can help create a far better oversight, as well as encouraging more empathy for our business peers.
Your processes are key too. What do you have in place whereby a person does need time off for mental health appointments or for an extended period of sickness, to recover just as if they had a broken leg?
How about healthcare provision? Can a member of staff be signposted to appropriate support via an EAP provider? Longer term, might you need to be more open to reassessing roles and responsibilities when issues of mental health are presented to you?
What protocols and perspective do you have when an employee seeks to return to work, or to reduce their hours for the sake of recovery, whilst seeking to stay actively employed – either in a lesser role, with fewer hours, or as part of a job share?
Consider too, being innovative in how colleagues support one another. Some firms find that buddy systems and peer mentoring can be a great way of knowing that empathetic conversation is taking place between two valuable staff.
And finally – don’t neglect your messaging around holidays and periods of rest.
However busy you are as a business, you should always make staff feel able to take appropriate breaks away from their professional world and encourage them to recharge on a regular basis.
If we can be of help in devising your protocols and approach to mental health support, please contact us.