Supporting employee mental health in the workplace
One year on since the implementation of the first national lockdown, living in a third lockdown and with reports of a third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in Europe, we are all feeling the strain.
Unsurprisingly, stress, anxiety and depression are the mental health problems on the increase and affecting many people right now.
April 2021 marks the 30th annual Stress Awareness Month but it’s perhaps never been as relevant as right now. Stress is a significant factor in mental health problems, often leading to anxiety and depression. Perhaps because it isn’t seen as a physical illness, stress is often not given the focus and attention necessary to address it. However, as many people with a stress disorder could tell you, it is linked to a number of physical health problems, such as insomnia, digestive problems, impaired immune system and heart problems. Whilst individually we will need to understand what is causing us personal stress and learn what steps we might take to reduce it, we will inevitably take some of it with us into work.
This is not a new thing. Even pre-Covid, the Office for National Statistics reported that 12.4% of days lost due to sickness absence in the UK in 2018 were down to mental health problems; that’s 1 in 6 days. The good news is that there are many positive things that you, as an employer, can do in the workplace to support the mental health and wellbeing of your employees.
Certainly, it makes economic sense to do so. If employees are able to talk to you openly about their problems and get support, they are less likely to have to take time off. It’s good for morale and engagement too – employees who feel cared for will go that extra mile to do a great job for you.
You also have a legal “duty of care” to do all you reasonably can to support your employees’ health, safety and wellbeing, which includes mental health. Remember also that mental health issues can be considered a disability under the Equality Act, which requires you to make “reasonable adjustments” to the workplace or the person’s role. Some examples might be adjusting their working hours or allowing them time out of work to attend regular medical or counselling appointments.
How do you create a supportive wellbeing culture?
- Mental health awareness training is a very useful management tool. Many of us might be unaware of the signs of mental ill health or make judgements because we don’t understand what is going on. Or we may want to help but are scared of saying or doing the wrong thing. With training, managers can quickly identify employee wellbeing issues and feel confident about approaching them.
- Appointing Mental Health First Aiders (“MHFAs”) is something else to consider. One of the many benefits of MHFAs in the workplace is the boost to mental health awareness it can provide, helping to reduce the stigma associated with mental ill-health and making it easier for your employees to speak up and seek help. MHFA England offers two-day courses https://mhfaengland.org/individuals/adult/2-day/.
- Working from home is still a reality for many at present. These employees are often lone workers and are at particular risk of detriment to their mental health. Risk assessments should be in place for homeworking and you can play a key role in preventing depression and stress through regular communication and wellbeing “check ins” with your remote teams.
Mental Health UK has useful information and resources on Stress Awareness Month available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other helpful sources of information for employers on raising mental health awareness and providing a supportive workplace culture are: