For many of us, work is a major part of our lives. It is where we spend much of our time, where we get our income and often where we make our friends. Having a fulfilling job can be good for your mental health and general wellbeing.
Poor mental health is one of the biggest issues in the workplace today, causing over 70 million working days to be lost each year. This includes everything from the most commonly experienced symptoms of stress and anxiety, right through to more complex mental health conditions, such as depression, bipolar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
This article looks at how to encourage good mental health – by safeguarding staff wellbeing, addressing problems before they become severe, and supporting staff when issues do emerge. This is not about becoming an expert in mental health; it’s about spotting the signs that something might be wrong. It will signpost the right support and resources, and offer suggestions for putting strategies in place to support good mental health. All this will help empower managers to do the same.
MAKE THE BUSINESS CASE
Senior leaders are understandably under increased pressure to cut costs and optimize return on investment, and may not immediately understand the business impact of poor mental health. Be prepared to make the business case and have figures to back this up – come prepared with figures on staff turnover and morale, and bring relevant feedback from exit interviews.
We all work better if we have clear goals that we are working towards, and mental health in the workplace is no different. Identify the key drivers for mental health, and the key indicators; figure out how to measure these and what level the company should achieve and ensure these are an integral part of your company’s performance targets.
CHOOSE YOUR MOMENT
Think about the best times to start a conversation with the board and get their buy-in. There are some important dates throughout the year that can help to get the conversation started, including the Mental Health Foundation’s Mental Health Awareness Week in May and World Mental Health Day in October. However, don’t feel you have to wait for one of these. There are also many internal milestones that can help to put mental health on the agenda like board meetings, staff surveys, staff absence reports. Think about the times in the year when your business is busiest and staff are under the most stress, so you can raise the issue ahead of time.
IDENTIFY YOUR BOARD CHAMPION
It helps to enlist a board member as your mental health champion – someone who will raise the issue at the highest levels of the business. It may be they have experienced a mental health problem themselves, or they may simply be passionate about looking after staff. They can also help to lead by example, encouraging more junior employees to think about their mental wellbeing at work.
BREAK THE TABOO
Mental Health is still a taboo subject in the workplace. 67% of employees feel scared, embarrassed or unable to talk about mental health concerns with their employer. To break this taboo and create an open and caring culture it’s important to get your board on the side and take a top-down approach. If they are speaking out on the issue, perhaps even drawing on their own experience, then this attitude will trickle down to managers and then staff.
Although understanding of mental health issues is growing, misconceptions still remain – especially in the workplace. Once thought of as something that happened to an unfortunate few, one in four people are now affected by mental health issues, and employers need to be able to spot the signs. If not, problems may only come to light later on when more serious interventions are necessary.