Supporting your employees’ mental health and wellbeing
As a HR Consultant and Mental Health First Aid Instructor, one of the positives I have taken from the last 18 months is that we are now having more conversations about mental health and wellbeing.
For a long time, many people have struggled to talk about their mental health, particularly in the workplace. This is usually down to a fear of being misunderstood, ridiculed or stigmatised. They have been concerned that if they tell their manager or HR department that they experience depression, anxiety or other common conditions, that this will impact on their job, chances of promotion and livelihood.
Whilst we are becoming more open as a society, and within organisations, there can still be misunderstanding about mental health.
What is mental health and wellbeing?
It is part of our overall health – we all have both physical and mental health. These are closely linked – think about how your mood is affected if you are feeling under the weather for example. Both mental and physical health change over time, and some people are more vulnerable to experiencing health problems than others. We are all made differently. Mental health affects how we see the world and ourselves, our self-esteem and confidence, and how we deal with negative things that happen in our lives ie resilience. If we experience good mental health, we are able to enjoy our relationships, work, hobbies and interests, and cope with stress and the challenges that life throws at us.
During the last 18 months, everyone has faced different challenges – working from home, isolation, home schooling, working on the front line with no respite, those on furlough being concerned about their futures, and so on.
What influences our mental health and wellbeing?
A number of factors including our family background and upbringing, culture, education, our support network, being in a job or unemployed, our identity and values.
It is important to understand this – consider the different members of your team. For instance, people from an ethnic minority background or the LGBTQ+ community often feel marginalised in society. This is likely to impact on their mental health and wellbeing.
Mental health and the workplace
As line managers, it is important to know your team, and recognise the signs that someone may be having difficulties. In HR, I often come across what looks like a performance or behaviour issue which turns out to be linked to something going on at work, home or a mental health condition.
Common indicators of mental health issues at work include
Absence levels – in my experience, people with mental health issues don’t always tell their employer the real reason for their absence – you may see lots of time off for flu/colds, back or tummy problems for example.
Performance/behaviour – if an employee is experiencing mental health issues, this is likely to affect both their home and work life, and will have an impact on their performance and behaviour in the workplace.
Changes – these can be subtle and happen over time. Things to watch out for include an outgoing member of your team becoming very withdrawn, or someone who is normally well turned out looks a bit dishevelled.
All of the above can be more difficult to notice when you have team members who are working remotely.
Having regular catch ups with team members can help you to notice how they are doing, and any changes.
It’s important to ask how they are, and listen to what they say, and often what they don’t say.
How can I support my team with mental health issues?
One of the most powerful ways or normalising conversations around mental health is to encourage senior leaders to share their experiences.
In one of my client companies, we asked colleagues to write their own stories for World Mental Health Day in October last year. This opened up some great conversations about grief, depression, and the menopause.
It is important to keep an eye on sickness absence – this helps you to explore patterns and the reasons for absence. Return to work interviews can be useful in exploring how the employee is doing, and the real reasons for their absence.
Make sure employees know what support you offer as a business – this may be talking to you as their line manager, HR, Occupational Health, Employee Assistance programmes or Mental Health First Aiders for example. Think about where this information can be found – noticeboards, the intranet and also on the inside of the cubicle doors in the bathroom – this is often where people go to be alone when they are upset.
Where you notice a change in someone’s conduct or performance, be curious about the reasons why. Let them know you are there to help be the best they can at work, and ask how you can support them. They may not want to talk there and then, but let them know you are there for them and you care about them.
Think about the language you use when talking about mental health in the workplace, as this sets the culture and tone. If it is seen as a joke or the subject of banter for example, staff are not going to feel comfortable opening up and asking for help.
Educating employees and managers about mental health and wellbeing can help to develop a more supportive environment, as well as protecting the business from potentially expensive legal claims.
The business and legal case
As well as being the right thing to do morally, there are compelling commercial and legal reasons to support employee’s mental health:
1 in 4 people will experience a mental health issue during their lifetime. Many of those will be in employment. By supporting them, you can help them to be a productive member of your team.
As an employer, you have a duty of care to your employees under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, which covers both mental and physical health.
Under the Equality Act, any job applicant or employee with a long-term health condition which is classed as a disability will be protected from discrimination. This can also cover situations where a member of their family is experiencing a mental health problem, known as associative discrimination.
If you would like to find out more, take a look at the MHFA England website:
About the author
Sarah Darbyshire is a HR Consultant and Director. After working in-house in senior HR roles for 20 years, she established HR Solutions Yorkshire Limited in 2016 to provide commercial, solution focused HR support to businesses.
Her services include:
She is also an approved instructor for Mental Health First Aid England. To find out more take a look at the following links:
If you would like to find out more about how HR Solutions Yorkshire can help you to manage, motivate and develop your employees, or for details of our Mental Health First Aid courses please contact Sarah Darbyshire on 07495857525, 01937 591577 or email firstname.lastname@example.org