Over the past 12 months, we’ve seen commitment to employee wellbeing shoot up the corporate priority list. Mental wellbeing is a particular priority as so many people are struggling with the effects of the Covid-19 crisis on their lives and loved ones. Meanwhile people already living with mental health problems are facing extra challenges too.
So as an employer, how can you ensure your workplace is supportive of people suffering with mental health issues and encourage them to seek help?
Why don’t people discuss mental health at work?
Awareness of mental health is increasing, but people with mental health problems still face discrimination, and can have difficulty getting the help they need. Many people who experience distress try to keep their feelings hidden because they are afraid of other people’s responses.
Fear of discrimination and feelings of shame are among the top reasons people give for not telling their colleagues about their mental health problems.
When we create workplace cultures where people can be themselves, it is easier for people to speak about mental health concerns without fear, and easier for them to reach out for help when they need it. Even so, the decision to disclose distress at work is not one people take lightly. It is vital that workplaces become environments where people feel safe to be themselves.
Five key areas of focus for employers
1. Acknowledge the value of mental wellbeing in boosting productivity
Vitality’s Britain’s Healthiest Workplace (2018) study revealed that mental health problems are a significant driver of productivity loss, costing UK businesses £38 billion annually.
When people feel well, they do well. So it’s in everyone’s interest to make sure staff are mentally healthy and feel empowered to perform at their best, day after day.
2. Cement mental health and wellbeing as priorities for your organisation
Commit to developing an approach to mental health at work that protects and improves mental health for everyone, whilst supporting those people who experience distress. Designate board champions and ensure senior leaders and middle managers are responsible for implementing mental health programmes.
3. Support the development of compassionate and effective line management relationships
Provide opportunities for managers to attend relevant training to support staff living with mental health problems. You should also provide proactive support for staff line-managing people with mental health problems, including access to HR and, where necessary, occupational health services.
4. Address discrimination
Ensure that discrimination on the grounds of mental health status is seen to be as unacceptable as discrimination in relation to other protected characteristics such as race, gender or sexual orientation. Encourage staff to report any discrimination or harassment they face and to blow the whistle on discrimination they witness.
5. Create an open and empathetic culture around mental wellbeing
Mental health conditions are not obvious from the outside but have a severe impact on daily life, while fear of stigma or lack of understanding may prevent sufferers from seeking help. Give people positive reasons to disclose by establishing a culture that values authenticity and openness – this should be led from the top of the organisation. Explore setting up peer support and mentoring programmes for staff with lived experience of mental health problems.
The author is Rebekah Tapping, HR Director at Personal Group.
Article published on REBA on 14th May 2021