Today is World Mental Health Day. We’re probably all very aware of how prevalent mental ill health is but it puts it into sharp focus to read that 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England, and 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem in any given week in England.

This could include stress, anxiety or depression, or conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, (PTSD), bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).*

Given the average person will spend 90,000 hours at work over their lifetime, it is worrying that evidence suggests 12.7% of all sickness absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions with 1 in 7 people experiencing mental health problems in the workplace.**

What can you do to support your employees?

Focus on your culture

The first step, and perhaps the hardest, is to get your culture right. Although it is becoming more socially acceptable to talk about mental ill health, there is still a long way to go to remove the stigma completely. There are many things an employer can do to create a culture where people are willing to talk about mental health. This can include introducing mental health first aiders, support groups or a buddy system. It is not enough to put up a poster; employers must walk the walk, have support from their leadership and find a solution that works best for them.

Prevent issues arising where you can

Although you can’t control what happens outside of work, there are ways you can adjust the world of work to ease pressure on your workforce.

The ‘five ways to wellbeing’ produced by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) on behalf of Foresight gives guidance for small steps people can take to improve their mental wellbeing and there are many ways that employers can facilitate these at work:

  • Can you help your people to feel connected? This is undoubtedly hard post-pandemic and in the world of hybrid working so it might take more thought than previously. Can you reintroduce lunch time clubs on days when you know there are good numbers in the office? Can you put on specific team or office-wide events at regular intervals? Can you replace any in-person events with a virtual equivalent? It may not be as interactive and it still involves but it’s a way of giving your employees a focus beyond their workload.
  • Can you encourage people to be active during the working day? This is especially important for those who work in sedentary office jobs. Encouraging colleagues to take their full breaks and get outside for a walk, or even have walking meetings instead of sitting around the board room table can pay dividends.
  • Can you give colleagues an opportunity to learn and volunteer in their communities? As well as giving back to society, this can also be very beneficial for mental health.

Don’t wait – intervene if you need to

With the right culture and measures to try to prevent mental ill health, employers still have a role in intervening if someone is suffering from mental ill health. As an employer, make sure you have trained your managers appropriately. They shouldn’t be expected to be medical professionals but they do need to be equipped to know how to navigate challenging situations involving mental ill health.

Managers need to be alive to the signs and think about the common symptoms that may become obvious at work. This might include increases in unexplained absence or sick leave, poor performance and timekeeping, difficulty with making decisions, lack of energy, becoming uncommunicative or moody, keeping the video off in Teams or Zoom calls and other unexplained changes.

If you are worried, about an employee, take time to speak with them regularly to understand how they are getting on and ask what can be done to support them. You might want to think about getting a medical report so you can understand the condition (usually via an occupational health doctor or the person treating them). Could you adjust their work or working environment in some way to enable them to continue to work effectively? Do speak with the individual about what they are prepared to share with the colleagues but informing and educating those working alongside them about the condition can be very useful, so they are sensitive to the employee’s needs and possible limitations. That greater understanding can also reduce feelings from the broader team that they are always having to pick up work for their colleague.

While some people’s recovery will require time off, mental ill health does not automatically mean that someone will be off sick for an extended period or never return to their full capacity. It may be possible to make short-term adjustments to the type of work they are doing or change their working hours which could help keep them in work.

Keep the conversation going

Mental ill health, and recovery from it, is an ongoing process and managers should make sure that they allow time to continue talking and that they keep any adjustments or measures under review.

Do make sure that the employee is not treated adversely because of their condition or because of matters arising from their condition. For example, if a person is making mistakes at work, is falling out with staff or failing to following instructions, don’t give warnings or dismiss unless you have investigated and considered the impact of mental health issues first.

With so many people likely to be affected by mental ill health at some time in their life, it is essential that businesses are geared up to support them.

Though any absence, particularly that flowing from mental ill health, can be damaging for a business and potentially difficult and costly to manage, it is nevertheless worth giving that time and investment to a valued employee so that they can continue to contribute to the life and success of your business.

Our Employment team are happy to support you in any situation involving your employees.