Everyone will go through periods of good and poor mental health, the same as we do physical health. With 1 in 5 employees currently experiencing mental health problems, it should be an essential business concern for all organisations. Supporting mental health in the workplace is vital as staff who have positive mental health are more productive and businesses who promote a progressive approach to mental health see a significant impact on business performance. Talking openly to an employer about health or any other problems may be difficult but is essential for the employee to be able to receive the support needed.
Employees have a legal right to privacy and therefore do not need to tell an employer that they are taking medication for mental ill-health; however if there are possible side effects that could cause a health and safety risk to the employee or others, then it is essential that they understand they need to make their employer aware.
The best thing you can do as an employer is to create an open and honest workplace culture where employees feel they can talk about their mental health conditions.
Despite many employees feeling their employer or line manager would be supportive, a recent survey found that less than half of people diagnosed with a mental health problem had actually told their manager.
Spotting the signs
Line managers who know their staff well and regularly hold catch ups meetings are well placed to spot any signs of stress or mental ill health. Often the key indicator is a change in typical behaviour. Some of these could be:
- Visible tension or trembling
- Constantly feeling cold
- Loss of humour & motivation
- Lapse in memory
- Difficulty taking information in
- Lateness, leaving early or extended lunches
- Working for longer hours
- Increased sickness absence
- Disruptive or anti-social behaviour
This list is not exhaustive and symptoms experienced can vary from person to person by type and intensity. Be mindful that spotting one or more of these signs does not automatically mean the employee has a mental health problem! It could be a sign of another health issue.
Often employees will not feel confident in speaking up, so a manager making the first move to open can be key to encouraging the employee to discuss their health. However, many managers are unsure as to how to raise the subject of mental health with their employees and worry about getting it wrong. Knowing the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of how to have these conversations can make this more comfortable for everyone concerned.
- Ensure the employee knows the conversation is confidential
- Speak calmly
- Listen actively and careful
- Encourage the employee to talk
- Show empathy and understanding
- Ask simple, open questions like;
– How are you doing at the moment?
– You seem a bit down/upset/under pressure/frustrated/angry. Is everything okay?
– I’ve noticed you’ve been arriving late recently and I wondered if you’re okay?
– Is there anything I can do to help?
– What support do you think might help?
– Have you spoken to your GP or looked for help anywhere else?
- Make assumptions
- Respond in a judgemental or patronising way
- Take any phone calls during the discussion or allow for any interruptions
- Ask questions like:
– Why can’t you just get your act together?
– Everyone else is in the same boat and they’re okay. Why aren’t you?
– Who do you expect to pick up all the work that you can’t manage?
– Your performance is really unacceptable right now – what’s going on?
Useful tools for Managers
There are some good tools available for managers to use to support their conversations with employees and help identify action plans to support them at work; examples include:
Individual work stress risk assessment tool: www.hseni.gov.uk/publications/individual-risk-assessment-template-and-action-plan
Wellness Action Plans: www.mind.org.uk/workplace/mental-health-at-work/taking-care-of-your-staff/employer-resources/wellness-action-plan-download/