How to Manage Mental Health in the Workplace
Although one in four of us will experience a work-related mental health issue in our life time, there is still a stigma associated with poor mental health.
Many people will dismiss conditions such as anxiety, depression or stress as mere excuses for poor work performance, but the reality is that these issues can be crippling to individual productivity and the standard of work could suffer as a result.
We find out how corporations can create a culture of acceptance regarding cases of poor mental health, and how this in turn will help employees to be more productive.
How prevalent are mental health issues in the workplace?
Although maintaining optimal mental health should be the primary focus of businesses that wish to have an empowered and productive workforce, the state of mental health among employees in the UK has deteriorated, according to a recent survey by People Management of HR professionals.
As it stands, the most common manifestations of ill mental health is stress reported in 88 percent of organisations, followed by depression (85 percent) and anxiety (83 percent).
Workforce Survey researchers found that there were a total of 440,000 cases of work-related stress, anxiety or depression between 2014 and 2015, a prevalence rate of 1380 per 100,000 workers.
Their latest estimates show that stress accounted for 35 percent of all work related ill health cases, and 43 percent of all working days lost due to ill health between 2014 and 2015. Stress is more common in public service industries such as health and social care and public administration, according to statistics.
While these statistics may indicate an increased willingness in employees to open up about their mental health, many companies still fail to adequately deal with the issues. This neglect often results in a ripple effect that could end up costing the business dearly.
Deteriorating mental health brings down productivity and motivation along with it, meaning that employees will not deliver an optimal standard of work, thus making your business suffer.
What are the warning signs to look out for?
Symptoms of mental unrest at the workplace may manifest themselves in a variety of ways. An article by the Equality and Diversity unit of Oxford University, provides a comprehensive list of symptoms to take into consideration:
- Physical symptoms: Fatigue, headaches, indigestion, changes in sleep patterns
- Psychological symptoms: Anxiety, tearfulness, low mood, indecisiveness, loss of humour, illogical thought processes
- Behavioural symptoms: Increased smoking and drinking, withdrawal, irritability, restlessness, uncharacteristic errors, and uncharacteristic problems with colleagues,
- Changed attendance patterns: Lateness, working long hours, taking leave at short notice.
Line managers who spot these symptoms in employees should be quick to address and deal with them before they escalate and potentially become more damaging to the overall productivity of the individual, and the team.
The specific causes of mental unrest in the workplace
Mental health, much like physical health, can often fluctuate depending on what causal factors an individual may be exposed to. According research by the CIPD, 70 percent of employee mental health problems are either directly caused by work or by a combination of work and home.
In acknowledging the prevalence of workplace triggers that may cause mental distress, it’s important to note that a management approach which solely views mental ill health as a medical problem is therefore unlikely to succeed.
Managers need to be alert to the potential workplace triggers for distress in employees, such as:
- Working long hours with no breaks.
- Unrealistic expectations or deadlines.
- High-pressure environments with no positive reinforcement from upper management.
- Poor working environment devoid of adequate lighting, kitchen or break room facilities or sanitation products.
- Unmanageable workloads with demotivating consequences should deadlines be missed.
- Negative relationships or poor communication.
- Poor workplace culture or lack of management support.
- Job insecurity or change in management.
- High-risk roles that may attract backlash from friends and family.
- Working alone.
How business leaders can create a culture of acceptance
In order to facilitate the preventative and recovery measures to ensure optimal mental health, managers need to be proactive by developing and implementing a Wellness Action Plan.
A good Wellness Action Plan should prioritise the following:
- Assess the risk factors of stress or mental unrest: By detecting the cause or triggers of mental health problems in the workplace, you can plan to minimise them where possible.
- Construct and train a team of mental health monitors and councillors: Having mental health professionals in place to provide regular information and support will help to open up the dialogue surrounding mental health, and foster a culture of support.
- Provide sensitivity and empathy programs for staff and managers: We all have mental health, and much like physical health, it fluctuates depending on what risk factors one may be exposed to. Educating staff and managers on the prevalence and normality of poor mental health will help them to be more empathetic and supportive of colleagues who may be suffering from mental health issues.
- Provide coping strategies that foster resilience: This could be through enabling more flexibility in terms of work roles and hours, building inclusive work cultures, and organising team building events that enable you to coach, train and mentor the employee in question, either on a physical or mental level.
- Organise events, and implement policies that focus on employee health and wellbeing: These could be sociable and recreational events outside of work, such as spa days, golf tournaments and dinner parties.
- Provide information and resources: Ensure that there is always updated information regarding the prevalence of mental health issues in the workplace, and what steps can be taken to manage them on a personal and collective level.
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