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May is ‘mental health awareness month’ – Are you doing enough?

More than ever before, employers are doing more to ensure that employees have the support they need to take care of their mental health. This can involve offering employee assistance programmes, a really effective way to provide access to personal counselling and mental health support. But it’s also important to focus on the root causes of poor mental health at work.

Just like physical health, nobody is immune to a period of (or indeed an ongoing battle with) poor mental health. Long working hours, unrealistic workload expectations and poor relationships with colleagues can all play their part in creating or deepening issues with anxiety, stress, depression and self-esteem. When an athlete is unfit, they need to sit on the bench, so think of your staff like that.

Poor mental health is one of the biggest issues in the workplace today, causing over 70 million working days to be lost each year. This includes everything from the most commonly experienced symptoms of stress and anxiety, right through to more complex mental health conditions, such as depression, bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.

As well as having a huge impact on individual employees, poor mental health has severe repercussions for employers and the business – including increased staff turnover, sickness absence due to depression, burnout and exhaustion, decreased motivation and lost productivity. But while businesses, large and small, increasingly understand the importance of good mental health, many simply don’t feel confident handling and communicating these issues in the workplace.

In Scotland, nearly 1 in 10 adults had two or more symptoms of depression or anxiety in 2012/3, this will have increased considerably following the pandemic.

1 in 5 people take a day off work due to stress.

Less than half of employees said they would feel able to talk openly with their line manager if they were suffering from stress.

In the last 6 years the number of working days lost to stress, depression and anxiety has increased by 24%.

All research from Mental Health Foundation.

Good mental health should be a priority for any business, and implementing it needs to involve more than just the HR team. It’s vital to get buy-in from owners and managers to make sure conversations about mental health and wellbeing happen at all levels.

Help your managers to help your people. Consider investing in training to help them recognise the early signs of a mental health condition and put strategies in place to support staff that are affected. It’s also important to follow up to make sure they have taken this training on board and understand how to apply this day-to-day. Make it clear that they are not expected to become experts in mental health or to handle problems alone – instead they are there to flag problems and signpost the support and resources available. Mental Health First Aid certificated courses are something Hospitality Health have offered to the industry free of charge for several years now.

Many managers can find it difficult to talk about mental health issues with staff, often for fear of doing or saying the wrong thing. Talk to your managers about how to get the conversation started. ‘Constructive caring conversations’ are so important.

A ‘Tea Talk’ session is a great way to start a conversation at work about what mental health means to the team, and what the business can do about it.

An employer with an empathetic manger may be a hidden asset in the present staff recruitment crisis – It may even make you a more desirable prospect to new recruits! – A recent study shows that 60% of employees would feel more motivated and more likely to recommend their organisation as a good place to work if their employer took action to support well-being.

Use notice boards, company intranets, team training days and personal one-to-ones to remind your workforce of opportunities they have where they can discuss their personal wellbeing confidentially.

Promote fitness through gym and ride to work schemes, hold meetings while out for a walk, or consider a mindfulness retreat instead of your usual team day out. By bringing these opportunities and outlets to the fore, it will help normalise the idea of mental health care. Make it a pre-emptive measure rather than a reactive response.

Here are some practical ways to talk about mental health at work:

  • Use staff newsletters, posters in communal areas, and other internal communications to raise awareness of mental health.
  • Introduce discussions about mental health at staff meetings – use them as opportunities to check in with staff about how they are feeling or how they would rate their stress levels and why.
  • Conduct regular staff surveys to take a temperature check on wellbeing and feedback results and progress to staff.
  • Make sure staff know what support is available through your intranet or employee handbook and find opportunities throughout the year to remind people what is available and how to access it.
  • Hold consistent return to work interviews – these ensure the employee hasn’t come back too early and can help you get to the root of a problem, as well as being an effective tool of absence management.
  • Continue to check-in with employees regularly – often support can drop off once they are settled back in the workplace, but it is important to have an ongoing, and meaningful dialogue to prevent problems from recurring.