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Mental health issues are nothing new, but the pandemic and its various knock on effects has seen a surge in people experiencing challenges with their mental health wellbeing. But this remains an area that some employers find tricky to recognise, address and manage.
What is mental health?
We all have mental health, just as we all have physical health. Just like physical health, a person’s mental health can fluctuate throughout their lifetime, day-to-day, and even within the same day.
Why should employers be concerned about mental health wellbeing?
All employers know that they are under an obligation to ensure the health and safety of their employees, and this therefore extends to mental health. But there are countless reasons to make employee mental health wellbeing a high priority, including:
- Ensuring good employee attendance and performance
- Maintaining a happy workplace
- Minimising the risk of claims, for example of discrimination or even personal injury
How do I know if an employee might be suffering with poor mental health?
If you don’t know your employees it will make it more difficult to spot any warning signs. So the first stage is to ensure a solid base – have regular catch ups and discussions and create an open environment, where employees feel able to share any concerns. It’s also important to ensure managers are trained and know how to spot potential issues early.
Managers need to be familiar with the warning signs of possible poor mental health – and especially when these occur as a change (rather than being a regular feature of that person’s character). In particular sudden poor performance may actually be a sign of something else going on. Here are some common indicators of poor mental health which might be particularly noticeable in a work context:
- Tiredness/poor sleep
- Dishevelled appearance
- Losing confidence and/or motivation
- Mood swings/over-reactions
- Struggling to absorb information
- Memory lapses
- Being withdrawn
- Contributing less to meetings/activities/tasks
- Working excessive hours
- Arriving late, leaving early, taking longer breaks
- Performing inconsistently/differently
- Taking risks that are excessive/out of character
What should I do if I think an employee might be suffering with poor mental health?
Of course it could be the case that an employee displaying signs of poor mental health is absolutely fine – there could be another reason entirely for their behaviour. However, it’s important that, especially where there is a significant change in one of your employees, you talk to them about it.
Explain that you’ve noticed xyz, which seems out of character for them, and ask if everything is ok? Is there anything you can help with? Do they need any support? If they express feelings of low mood or you think there could be a chance that their mental health is suffering, suggest they speak to their GP, refer them to any company support available and consider what else you can do to support them.
How can I support an employee suffering with poor mental health?
Consider any adjustments you might be able to make to their working environment or role to support them. For example, if they’re struggling with sleep, could they start and finish later or work from home? They might just need a less stressful workload for a few days, or to know that you’re available to speak to when they’re feeling too pressured.
Make sure you document everything, in case the issues become long term. Diarise follow ups, without adding undue pressure. For example, perhaps just set yourself a reminder, rather than sending a formal calendar invite.
Make sure the employee is aware of the external support that may be available to them:
- Improving Access to Psychological (IAPT) services that provide evidence-based therapies for those suffering with anxiety and depression
- Charities e.g. Mind
- Counselling services - the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) which is the professional association for members of the counselling professions in the UK and maintains a register of therapists
- NHS resources on mental health services
- Online counselling services
- The Samaritans
- Any employee assistance programme offered by your Company.
Sometimes employees may not be receptive to your attempts to speak to them about the issues you’ve noticed. If it is impacting their performance, try to gently explain that you are trying to support them before any issues become more serious, and you’re primary aim is to help them. If they seem reluctant to access support, try to find out why. It might be fear or embarrassment and you may be able to reassure them about their concerns.