Mental Health ConditionsPosted in : HR Updates on 17 July 2014
Angela Schettino writes:
Mental Ill Health is a wide ranging topic that touches most of us in some way during our working lives. Stress, anxiety and depression, in particular, cause more working days lost than any other health problem and a significant financial burden on employers, amounting to Billions of pounds lost across the UK economy (according to data from the Department of Health). Recent increases in job insecurity, work intensity and inter- personal conflicts at work only serve to increase the work stressors which add strain to issues already impacting from home.
It is estimated that one in four employees will suffer from mental ill health at any given time yet despite the growing profile of mental health issues, many employees are still reluctant to openly discuss their personal struggles, for fear of discrimination or stigmatisation. In turn, many employers are unsure about how best to manage sensitive issues when they arise.
Organisations such as Action Mental Health and Mindwise in Northern Ireland and Mindful Employer in the UK are a great source of information and support about how to go about having a proactive, respectful and inclusive approach to managing people with Mental Ill Health.
Research conducted via collaboration between employers in all three sectors and the health service has concluded that the more common but narrower focus on a person’s mental illness is best replaced with a broader fuller view of health and wellbeing in the workplace.
Some Practical Advice from the Mindful Employers research...
- 65% of line managers in medium and large business say they would like mental health awareness training. Raising awareness helps increase understanding about mental health conditions and enables managers and colleagues to support staff experiencing such difficulties. Action Mental Health provide courses in NI in mental Health management, Personal Resilience and ‘Mindful Management’.
- People experiencing a period of mental ill health do in general get better. Recovery from a period of mental ill health can be assisted greatly by allowing the employee to avail of the support which is best suited to them, e.g. telephone support, self-help groups and advocacy services. Common talking treatments include CBT offered via the health service and in some cases EAP can be helpful to employees still attending work.
- Some employees will require medication, either on a temporary or ongoing basis. Open discussion in a safe environment with employees managing work with medication is important and allows managers to be aware of any side effects which might impact on performance.
- The overall approach to Health and Wellbeing in the workplace is vastly improved if this is established in a written document or action plan with key accountabilities.
A Mentally Healthy Workplace
Creating a ‘mentally healthy’ workplace is a commercially sound decision if actively pursued, the knock on affect impacts productivity and in turn the bottom line results. It is clearly a no brainer to retain and support existing employees than to recruit and re-train.
Some employers, such as ‘Covalent Software’ go as far as modelling a different approach to wellbeing through the ‘employer of choice’ approach, offering healthier eating and drinking options at work and purposefully avoiding the monitoring of absence or establishing warnings after periods of sick leave. Each employer must find an approach which suits their personality and culture as an organisation.
Managers are not expected or encouraged to be counsellors or therapists, but they are consistently shown to have an important role in promoting a healthy and supportive working environment. This can be underpinned by;
- Promoting open and honest conversation, providing support and mutual respect.
- Raising mental health awareness and helping to reduce stigma through communication , perhaps sharing the health and wellbeing action plan for your company / department.
- Allowing employees control over their work within the limits of the post, control being a primary stress trigger.
- Being aware of skill levels and workload, working to avoid overwhelming employees with too much work or that which is outside of their skill set.
- Where possible create a culture where work-life balance is encouraged , practiced and modelled by senior employees.
- Acknowledge good work regularly, say thank you and recognise employees for their efforts.
Good Communication as the Base Line
Good communication is the key to maintaining the required level of support if employees are to make the best and quickest recovery from a period of mental ill health. This means;
- asking employees displaying signs of ill health at work open questions and setting up a safe environment for dialogue.
- assisting employees with information and helping them pursue external support from their GP and/ or external organisations.
- keeping in regular contact by phone or in person whilst an employee is absent.
- working out a return to work action plan in partnership with the employee and their medical professional. The plan may involve temporary adjustments to workload, environment, policy and or supervisory assistance
The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.