When employees struggle with mental health challenges, it is common for them to keep their feelings bottled up. So how do you create a culture that is positive and supportive?
Is mental health something your employees would feel comfortable discussing at work?
Individuals have long feared that vocalising mental health struggles may hinder their opportunity for promotion and progression, as this could make them seem unable to cope with accelerated work pressures.
This was made clear by 2018 Accenture research, which highlighted that nine in ten UK workers have been affected by mental health issues – whether this is directly or indirectly. One of the key takeaways from the report – which surveyed 2,000 UK workers – was that 61% of employees experiencing mental health challenges don’t tell anyone about it.
Indy 100 recently reported that an employee tweeted about how she had sent her colleagues an email telling them she would be taking two days off to focus on her mental health, saying she hoped to return feeling “100% refreshed”. Her boss’s response went viral – he wrote: “I just wanted to personally thank you for sending emails like this. Every time you do, I use it as a reminder of the importance of using sick days for mental health – I cannot believe this is not standard at all organisations. You are an example to us all and help cut through stigma so we can all bring our whole selves to work”
While mental health days will hopefully soon be a statutory right, it is largely dependent on the company to ensure a culture that affords employees comfort in taking them too.
So how can you have a conversation about mental health with an employee?
Mental health charity Mind has provided the following five tips about how to start the initial conversation:
- Choose an appropriate setting – Location is everything when it comes to making employees feel safe and comfortable. Private and quiet locations that are neutral, such as a remote working space may help employees open up.
- Listen to employees and respond flexibly – Each individual mental health experience is different, so it is not as easy as having a generic, company-wide solution. Tailor the support to the needs of the individual and consider effective workplace adjustments that will help with supporting them.
- Don’t make assumptions – Don’t try and second guess what an employee might have and how this could affect their ability to do a job. Many people are able to hide their mental health challenges so it might not be as easy to spot to begin with.
- Encourage employees to seek advice and support – Advise employees to seek support from their GP, or from your Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) which may be able to provide counselling.
- Develop an action plan – Work with the employee to develop an individual action plan that can help alleviate pressures and identify signs of stress triggers and possible causes of impact on their work.
How can HR support staff who are experiencing a mental health problem?
According to NHS Employers, HR and line managers have an important role to play in supporting staff that are experiencing mental health challenges. So, here are five tips to help support struggling employees:
- Open up the conversation
- Make reasonable adjustments
- Return to work meetings
- Stay in contact
- Implement phased return plans
Your employees are individuals and they need to bring their whole selves to work. One size doesn’t fit all when addressing mental health issues, and the most important thing you can do as an employer is listen, make reasonable adjustments and support your employees.
If you need support with any of the issues touched on in this post, contact us!
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