Promoting good mental health in the workplace: how you can support your staff

Promoting good mental health in the workplace: how you can support your staff
Promoting good mental health in the workplace: how you can support your staff

Although one in four of us will experience a work-related mental health issue in our lifetime, 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 is mental health at work? 

Although maintaining optimal mental health should be the primary focus of businesses, the state of mental health among employees in the UK has deteriorated. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Depression and anxiety have a significant economic impact; the estimated cost to the global economy is US$1 trillion per year in lost productivity. Forbes stated that within the UK, mental health problems in the workplace cost the economy approximately £70 billion annually and 91 million workdays are lost in the UK due to symptoms of mental illness. 

In light of these staggering figures, maybe it’s time all employers more seriously considered investing in improvements to mental health awareness and management. In fact, if you’re concerned with spending money as an employer then investing in mental health could actually SAVE you money in the long run. For example, a recent WHO-led study estimated that for every US$1 put into scaled up treatment for common mental disorders, there is a return of US$4 in improved health and productivity. 

What are the warning signs to look out for?  

Symptoms of mental unrest in 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, the team and the business. 

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 to research by the CIPD, 70% 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, 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 

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. At Search we have recently arranged for a team of colleagues and clients to become Mental Health First Aiders where they are now equipped with some practical techniques for supporting those who may be struggling. 

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 we are exposed to. Educating people 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. Mindfulness offers many benefits to mental health and it’s worth educating people to how they can use it in the workplace. 

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. 

We cannot overlook the importance of mental health in the workplace.  

It's crucial that employers take proactive steps to promote mental wellbeing and provide support to those who may be struggling. By training Mental Health First Aiders, fostering empathy among staff, and equipping employees with resilience-building strategies, organisations can cultivate a healthier, more productive, and more supportive work environment.