Mental Health at Work: What to Do, How to Help and Who to Turn To

mental health in the workplace struggles

Mental health in the workplace is such a critical subject, for a variety of reasons. Are your employees feeling stressed right now? If they were, how would you know? And, more importantly, what can you do about it?

In this article, we’ll break down the topic of mental health at work, employee rights when it comes to mental health, and the role HR has to play in helping manage employee mental health and encouraging proper practice with the right steps.

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What Is Mental Health In The Workplace?

Mental health in the workplace is much like mental health everywhere. It is how we think, how we feel, and how we behave as a result of that. At work, it is when employees have mental health problems that affect their ability to do their work.

How Should We Think About Mental Health At Work?

The fact is that we need to think about mental health in the workplace quite holistically. That is to say that mental health issues, the most common of which are anxiety and depression, may be caused by work, may be an impediment to accomplishing work, or may simply be an aside to a much greater situation at play.

Therefore, we need to think about mental health, and about work, as topics which are sometimes intertwined, but do not have to be by definition.

Why Is Mental Health At Work Important?

Regardless of where your employees are working, managing and supporting mental health in the workplace is still important. In fact, now that more employees are working from home, while facing the most significant global crisis of many people’s lifetimes, dealing with mental health in the workplace is, quite frankly, a necessity in many HR managers’ lives.

Mental Health In The Workplace: UK Statistics

Recently, News Medical reported on a survey showing that over a quarter of the UK-based adults they surveyed said they were being treated for mental disorders, such as “mood disorders, neurotic disorders, stress-related conditions, and somatoform disorders, a group of psychiatric disorders that cause unexplained physical symptoms.” That’s just a subset of the employees being treated: the ones who admitted it! The real numbers are likely much higher.

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How Has Covid-19 Changed Mental Health At Work?

To put this into perspective, according to research by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) less than 30% of UK employees ever worked from home during 2019.

Since working from home became the norm for all but essential workers or those who physically cannot work from home, it simply became the norm.

Not everyone was comfortable with this change and the adjustment is likely to have caused distress to many of your employees in many ways, including:

  • Having less-than-ideal workspaces
  • Constant interruptions from family members or pets
  • The need to home-school children
  • Weight gain from stress-eating or convenience snacking
  • Loneliness and depression due to self-isolation on one’s own

In short, times are tough.

Does Your Organization Need A Mental Health In The Workplace Policy?

David Mallon, Chief Analyst at Deloitte says, “The wellbeing of our workforces is of critical importance. This was true before the pandemic. Today’s crisis only heightens the urgency. Organizations talk a good game, but results are decidedly mixed.”

David selects a few numbers from the Deloitte report 2020 Global Human Capital Trends, “80% say that well-being is important. 94% say that it drives performance. 96% say that it’s an organizational responsibility. Yet 2/3 don’t measure its impact at all.”

That is all to say that a mental health policy in your workplace may be the right move for your organization. While workers will have their own rights when it comes to UK law, having a policy in place is the right move from a perspective of transparency.

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What Are Work-Related Stress Employee Rights In The UK?

Regardless of whether your business measures wellbeing or not, being mindful of how your employees are doing is actually the law.

According to acas, “Employers have a ‘duty of care’. This means they must do all they reasonably can to support their employees’ health, safety and wellbeing. But how?

In 2017, the UK government commissioned an independent review on the role employers can play to better support individuals with mental health conditions in the workplace.

It’s called the Thriving at Work report and it sets out a set of standards that they recommend employers of all sizes put in place.

The HSE says that you can meet part of these core standards by “creating a mental health at work plan, promoting communications and open conversations, raising awareness and reducing stigma and providing a mechanism for monitoring actions and outcomes.”

This speaks back to our earlier point about having a policy surrounding mental health in the workplace. It allows your organization to reduce stigma, have open conversations, and determine ways to help when someone is struggling in a way that benefits all.

How Do You Promote Mental Health At Work?

The first steps are to identify it.

That might require educating your managers about how to spot the signs or providing mental health in the workplace training. It’s also a good idea to have a formalized way of coping with it – for example, something that addresses prevention, intervention, and protection.

You may even want to create a mental health in the workplace policy based on the guidance of experts like the Mental Health Foundation, as this helpful document explains.

If you do create a formal policy, make sure it is easy for managers to find this resource when they need it because when it becomes necessary, finding a helpful guide that they ‘know is somewhere, they just don’t know where…’ could have serious consequences!

Proactively Dealing With Mental Health In The Workplace

Today, more than ever, it’s really important to put mental health on the business agenda – but doing so requires making it a whole business concern, not just an HR concern.

As this PDF from the Mental Health Foundation says, “It’s vital to get buy-in from senior leadership and make sure conversations about mental health and wellbeing happen at board level.”

But, how do you get this buy-in?

First, by looking at the numbers. Taking good care of employees’ mental health can actually help improve morale and reduce staff turnover – and this should be evidenced in a business case that can help show management why it’s important.

For example, Deloitte estimates that poor mental health costs UK employers £33bn-£42bn each year. If even a fraction of that cost can be reduced by reducing absences, presenteeism (attending work while ill) and employee turnover, it is worth the investment.

Secondly, setting targets helps ensure that improving mental health awareness and reducing its impact across the company can be measured and, therefore, addressed. It’s wise to choose the right timing to put mental health initiatives in place.

Right now, with the stress affecting our global workforce, there has never been a better time to put mental health on the business agenda.

Should You Offer Mental Health In The Workplace Training?

If you’re looking for support for line managers, colleagues and staff, ways to assess your organization’s approach, ideas to improve workplace culture, or help to develop policy and practice, there are many organizations that offer assisstance.

One of these is mentalhealthatwork.org.uk. You might also like to take a look at the practical, HR Manager-focused content we’ve written about motivating your employees – how to boost your employees’ performance, improving teamwork from anywhere – the best collaboration tools to use and flexible working rules for the new normal.

Managing And Supporting Mental Health At Work

An excessive workload and financial concerns are two of the top three causes of mental health issues in the workplace according to Benenden health. However, they say, “In reality, it is often a combination of issues which take their toll on employee mental health”.

Having a clear policy in place relating to mental health and the workplace used to be a ‘nice-to-have’. In our current situation, it is essential.

While there is still a long way to go before discussing mental health is openly accepted, we can only hope – and do whatever we can as business leaders – to promote awareness of the topic and to let people know that it’s okay to be sad, frustrated and overwhelmed. And it’s even more okay to tell someone about it and get help.

Top Tips for Managing Mental Health At Work

The most important tip for organizations, when dealing with mental health in the workplace, is to reduce stigma and build policy. This way, employees know that they can feel open to having a conversation, discussing their struggles, and knowing action will be taken.

Managing mental health at work is likely not going to go away any time soon, and it will still play a key role even in hybrid forms of work, so we need to keep it top of mind. We hope this guide helped, and that you’ll consider putting it top of the agenda for your business.

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