Making Mental Health a Priority in the Workplace

Earlier this month, it was World Mental Health Day. Which is nice, although you wonder whether it should be a little more often than once a year. Contrary to what many might think, mental health problems can strike anyone at any time, and the workplace is often where problems arise or manifest themselves.

As employers, it’s our responsibility to support employees who may need a little extra help.

… but it’s only a handful of people, isn’t it

You may think that mental health issues are only diagnosed clinically, but for every person who does develop a disorder there are many experiencing symptoms that are compromising their day-to-day life and – from an employer’s point of view – their productivity at work.

And if those employees are spending 40 hours a week in your care, some simple changes can accommodate them and make life easier for them, making them happier at work and therefore more productive. Some mental health issues can be treated by simply getting enough sleep and eating well, and adjustments made by the employer such as more flexible working hours and Employee Assistance Programmes, are small sacrifices.

… but what can employers actually do?

It’s important to recognise the signs first. And this is historically where employers have failed their people. Withdrawal from work activities, changes of behaviour, a lack of motivation or excessive absences – all of these may seem innocuous but they could be signs of mental health problems.

Employers need to retrain so that they can:

    Recognize the signs of mental health problems

    Encourage honesty and transparency amongst your employees

    Be aware of the causes of mental health issues

There’s nothing wrong with a confidential discussion about their situation and letting employees know that you’re there for them if things get too much to handle alone. Outside assistance is a low-cost mechanism for employers to bring in experts if – as someone who spends 40 hours a week with that person – you notice they need some support.

… is the workplace bad for your mental health?

Mentally, the workplace is the most challenging environment many people encounter. There are ways for employers to assess whether the workplace is potentially damaging to their employees’ health, and often, external help or help from an HR specialist is the only way to independently assess this.

  •         Are employees being given a work/life balance?
  •         Does everyone have equal opportunity to progress, develop & grow their skill sets?
  •         Are people feeling overwhelmed with workload?
  •         Are responsibilities and KPI’s clear? A lack of clarity can be a cause of mental health issues
  •         Do people feel that they have ownership and autonomy? Or are they being micro-managed?
  •         Do people know where to turn if they do have issues?

Businesses can't afford to ignore mental health anymore

The cost of employee absenteeism and turnover, as well as the impact on productivity, can be significant. In fact, according to Mental Health America, when compared with their peers without mental health problems, adults with depression will take an average of 19 days off each year; and those with anxiety disorders will miss 17 days per year. More importantly those affected will miss out on almost £80bn in earnings every year as a result of their absence from work.

With statistics like that, an investment in some processes and a thorough assessment of how your workplace stands in terms of mental health issues feels like a small one.

It is time for the workplace to change. Mental health issues shouldn’t be ignored and left untreated any longer. It is essential that companies take steps toward improving their policies and support systems to ensure that all employees feel comfortable at work without fear of judgment or discrimination, leading to a happier workplace for all.

Published on Oct 20, 2022 by Gareth Cartman