No matter what industry you work in, there’s a lot of chatter around employee mental health. From high risk, physically demanding careers such as seafaring to jobs that involve long hours at a desk and little respite from a constant flow of emails, WhatsApp messages and phone calls, employees of all walks of life can be susceptible to work-related mental health issues.
Burnout, rocketing stress levels, anxiety...all can take their toll on the people that work for you. Indeed, you might even be feeling the effects yourself. But as someone working in Human Resources, it may well be down to you to help shape your company’s response to employee mental health and wellbeing.
So just how do you, as an organisation, cut through that chatter and start taking the mental health and wellbeing of your biggest asset - your people - seriously?
4 ways to prioritize your employees’ mental health
There are laws in England and Wales to protect employees from discrimination on the grounds of any mental health issues they may be struggling with, but despite this you might find that your people are still reticent to open up or be honest about any problems they are experiencing.
Worries about how it will affect their standing in the workplace, their pay, their right to other benefits, the way they are viewed by their superiors and peers, and even their job itself can all prevent an employee from talking about their state of mind. Let’s not forget that this is not a subject that everyone is comfortable talking about. In fact Priory, the provider of behavioural care, found that 40% of men will not talk about their mental health. And if issues are being discussed or questions asked in a performance review type scenario, what are the chances of even your more open employees being 100% honest about their current mindset?
The answer is to prioritize your employees’ mental health but without being overly intrusive. So how do you do that? Here Hezum takes a look at four different approaches that will help your organisation adopt a more proactive approach to making sure your workforce is a happy, mentally fit, productive and engaged one.
1. Keep it strictly confidential
Assure your employees that any conversations they have with HR (or with their manager or superior) are absolutely private and confidential. And make sure that all managers and people in your HR department know this and adhere to it. It only takes one person to let something slip about another employee for the rumour mill to spring into life - and it won’t take long for your employees to back right off when it comes to talking about their mental health.
2. Teach tips for good mental health
Even small companies will benefit from running mental health awareness sessions. After all, you likely have other group meetings and training - so why not add in periodic group sessions that teach staff some stress management techniques and other mental health subjects? Organisations like The Samaritans offer free resources for learning how to teach stress management, or you could bring in a mental health professional and have them conduct a course.
An additional benefit of running group sessions is that not only will it encourage your people to be more in touch and vocal about their mental health, but it also doesn’t single any one individual out in an uncomfortable one on one type setting.
3. Use a simple metric to help you monitor mental health
As part of your drive for better mental health in your workplace, implement a simple system that allows employees to rank where they feel they fall on a scale of one to ten (for example). This should make it easier for those that find it difficult to talk about their mental health to highlight any issues. You also have two ways of approaching this: named surveys or anonymous. If you’re asking for employees’ names, obviously this will help you address any individual problems, however, you might find you get a greater (and more honest) response rate if it’s anonymous. This will give you an overall picture of how your workforce is feeling emotionally and mentally as a whole and let you take steps to tackle any areas that clearly need improvement.
4. Know how to spot the signs
You’re (probably) not a mental health professional but you can still learn how to spot when someone in your workplace is struggling to cope. No one is suggesting you can read minds but by teaching yourself some of the signs - and subsequently your managers and supervisors - you can start to reach out to individuals where needed. This also helps you build a more caring culture which should have the knock on effect of encouraging other employees to ask for help if they need it.
Why should you care about your employees’ mental health?
You create fair and decent company policies to make your company a more attractive place to work so you can attract high caliber employees. Generous maternity and paternity leave, an above average annual holiday allowance and even duvet days all relay the message that you care about your employees and recognise their contribution to your business. This in turn leads to higher employee retention and creates an all round nicer, more welcoming place to work for everyone. Poor mental health leads to burnout, a lack of productivity and focus, and results in a domino effect of stress as employees are having to deal with irritable colleagues or pick up the slack. And that can cost you good people and good money.
But what it really boils down to is that everyone deserves to be respected and valued in their place of work and taking care of your employees’ mental health - particularly if it is work related - is simply the right thing to do.