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Time to heal the workplace

Sarah Mian, Head of Digital Learning - Access Group

Mental health can be a misunderstood and stigmatised topic that is often challenging for employees and organisations to manage. Despite progress being made, it is now the leading cause of sickness absence in the UK, according to the stats from HSE. 87% of HR managers say psychological wellbeing is the biggest health priority facing their organisations.

The current generation of workers face a particularly strenuous and challenging work environment – from balancing job uncertainty in the aftermath of the pandemic, to work-life balance strains. Managing wellbeing and mental health processes poorly can have a significant effect on individuals and their ability to work. People want to belong to an organisation with a purposeful, diverse, and flexible culture that ensures they have true support to navigate personal challenges.

Mapping out an approach to workplace mental health and wellbeing should not be confined to a month, or day, but an ongoing effort to constantly prepare, improve and care for employees. Feelings, good or bad, always have a place in the office, and HR leaders must embrace that.

Opening the conversation
Despite heightened cultural awareness around the topic of mental health, all too often employees are reluctant to disclose mental health problems to managers, senior leaders, or broader HR departments. Why? It may be because of the uncertainty surrounding how their colleagues will respond. Challenges related to mental health and wellbeing could be taken as a sign of weakness or unreliability. Open discussion on organisational processes and training can be an important asset for employees struggling with mental health concerns.  The use of tools for monitoring employee wellbeing may encourage difficult conversations to take place and inspire resilience and transparency across the workforce.

Getting the basics right
What are the key pillars to consider when prioritising mental health and wellbeing at the top of your businesses’ agenda?

  • Just as you would treat a physical health issue, employers have a legal obligation to support and provide care for employees – so treat your approach just as you would any legal business obligation.
  • Every mental health condition is different. They range from the two most common conditions of anxiety and depression to a wider spectrum like OCD, PTSD or bipolar. Additionally, difficult life events such as bereavement and menopause can have a knock-on effect for employees.
  • Understand the distinction between mental health and mental illness. As we all have physical health, we also all have mental wellbeing, which can deteriorate or improve depending on different factors. Mental illness however refers to conditions and behaviours identified and diagnosed by a professional.

Spotting early signs
Managers should keep an eye out for warning signs that employees might be suffering from a mental health issue, as it allows them to support staff sooner rather than later. This can have a significant positive impact on an employee’s health and performance. An open wellbeing conversational culture ultimately allows colleagues to look out for one another and discuss mental health concerns early.

What is important to look out for? Uncharacteristic behaviour or frequent absence is one key warning sign, as well as low levels of engagement. In a busy working environment, technology products can often track absences so that employers do not miss if an employee is suffering with high absence levels because of mental health. Perhaps a colleague has mentioned they have been struggling to maintain normal sleeping or eating patterns or withdrawing from social chats at work, a key warning sign. Symptoms are wide ranging and of course differ from person to person, and they do not necessarily mean someone is suffering. Even so, these symptoms could signal another issue, which might be worth a supportive check-in.

Shaping a workplace culture and re-prioritising mental health at the top of your organisations’ agenda is vital. By opening conversations and offering proactive support, we can ensure that employee wellbeing is a key area of focus, not just on Mental Health Day, but every day.

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