10 October 2013

Five steps to promoting positive mental health at work

Today is World Mental Health Day, an event which aims to raise awareness of issues surrounding mental health.

Each year companies in the UK lose £30 billion to absence, lost production and recruitment as a result of staff members suffering from problems affecting their mental health. Research from the Centre for Mental Health claims a total of 91 million working days are lost due to poor mental health and it is the cause of almost half of all long-term absences.

But there are things you can do as an employer to minimise the impact this issue has on your firm by promoting positive mental health in your workplace.

  1. Be a good listener

Talking about mental health can be a taboo issue in the work environment and staff can worry about admitting they are struggling for fear it may undermine their position at work. You cannot force your employees to come to you and discuss any concerns they have about their mental health, but you can make it clear that your office door is always open. Make it clear to all your staff that your door is always open and that they can come to you with any problem. Listen carefully to what your workers have to say and treat all discussions in complete confidence so they will feel you are someone they can trust with sensitive issues.

  1. Come up with practical ways to help

You won’t be able to produce a magic cure if one of your employees becomes affected by mental health issues. But you can come up with practical solutions to assist staff wellbeing, such as monitoring the workload of staff who are feeling overwhelmed by stress. Try to find out if there is anything about your workplace or their job that is making the matter worse or triggering stress, anxiety or depression. Once you understand more about the way they are feeling, you can work out ways to address the issue.

  1. Pay attention to your staff wellbeing

It isn’t always easy to spend a lot of time with your staff when you are busy running a company, but if someone is acting out of character, there may be a problem. If you are worried that someone may be struggling to cope for whatever reason, talk to them in private in a sympathetic and open-minded way. Simply asking if there is anything you can do to help may be a weight off the mind of someone suffering from stress or anxiety.

  1. Training for line managers

If your company is big enough to have line managers, consider giving them training in mental health issues, perhaps as part of a health and safety at work remit. This will help them recognise when members of their team have an issue and give them effective strategies in dealing with any problems with empathy and understanding. It can also help them identify which factors affecting mental health they can control, e.g. workload or bullying in the workplace, and which they can’t.

  1. Hold return to work discussions

If staff have been absent from the office, invite them in for a chat so you can find out what the problem is. If they have been off due to stress, anxiety, depression or any other mental illness, this will make you aware of the problem. Even if staff have been off with a physical illness, these discussions will give you a chance to talk to employees about how they are feeling.