Time you started paying attention to employee mental health?
One in four of us experience some kind of mental health problem in any given year. That figure, supplied by the Mental Health Foundation, means that a quarter of your employees are likely to be affected by a mental health issue within the next 12 months. Are you ready to help them when it happens?
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, mental health issues cost the UK economy around £70bn a year in lost productivity, benefit payments and health care expenditure.
While employers are usually confident when it comes to dealing with issues affecting employee physical health, it’s often a different story when it comes to employee mental health. This is partly because it can be difficult for managers to recognise the symptoms of mental health issues. And when you consider that many employees are hesitant to disclose the fact that they’re struggling, you’ve got the potential for a lack of any meaningful employer support within the mental health arena.
Research by mental health charity Mind found that 30% of respondents wouldn’t feel able to talk openly with their line manager about workplace stress while only 45% of respondents who had a diagnosed mental health problem had disclosed it to their employer.
There have been several high-profile cases of employee mental health issues within the banking industry in recent years. These include Barclays Regulator Sir Hector Sants stepping down due to stress and exhaustion, and Lloyds’ chief executive António Horta Osório taking a leave of absence because of the effects of stress-related insomnia. However, the scrutiny on overwork and stress following these cases has focused largely on the industry’s top management level. Mental health problems can affect anyone at any level across any industry: there is no stereotype.
Early intervention is vital
Your employees face challenges specific to themselves, and some may need little or no support at work. For others, however, a mental health issue that’s not addressed can escalate and result in a loss of productivity or leave of absence. While many banks now offer employee assistance programmes, these most frequently target workers already experiencing severe stress or mental health problems. It’s clear that a more preventative employer approach is needed to assist people with mental health issues get the help they need.
Five ways to help employees with mental health problems
- Replace fiction with fact
Promoting awareness within your workforce can reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues. Barclays’ ‘This is Me’ campaign took aim at common misconceptions by featuring employees talking frankly about their mental health. The campaign focused on showing that mental health conditions don’t define employees or their capabilities. Barclays used the programme to not only change perceptions but also make colleagues aware of the employer resources and support available to them.
- Be a champion of early intervention
Do your line managers have the tools to recognise the symptoms of depression, stress or anxiety? Would they feel confident speaking with an employee about their mental health issues in an empathetic manner? An early-intervention approach where line managers are attuned to the signs of mental distress is essential for avoiding crisis situations. This allows employees to receive support and access to assistance before situations escalate, preventing greater distress and a potentially long-term leave of absence.
- Direct employees to the help they need
Your employees will be more comfortable seeking help if they’re confident they’ll receive it in a confidential and non-judgmental manner. Greater rates of employee disclosure of mental health issues will give managers the opportunity to direct them to resources that will help them cope. Organisations like the Bank Workers Charity, which supports UK bank workers and their families, can help employees struggling with mental health issues by providing the information, advice and expert support services that they need.
- Be flexible where possible
No employee should feel excluded from doing their job because of a mental health issue. With the right support and understanding, you can go a long way towards helping your team members remain engaged and productive. Offering access to flexible or working from home options could be the difference between a long-term leave of absence and retaining a valuable employee.
- Consider the whole person, not just the employee
Regardless of their working environment, your employees will face a diverse range of non-work pressures like relationship breakdown, debt and bereavement. The ‘whole person’ approach, recommended by the most recent survey on the state of bank workers’ wellbeing, reflects the realities of people’s whole-life experience rather than simply work-related circumstances. Be clear that if your employees have pressures outside of work that are affecting their wellbeing your company will provide support where possible. It’s important that you then share the responsibility for good mental health practices by setting the expectation that your employees accept their own right and responsibility to use these services as they need them.
Every employer can work towards ensuring their company faces up to the realities of mental illness. Saturday, 10 October is World Mental Health Day, visit Time to Change to help end mental health stigma.