One in ten businesses admit that they have had staff leave the company citing mental health as the reason
by: Evie Breese, Becky Barnes
15 May 2023
At times, it might feel like your workload, boss, or emails aren’t exactly helping your mental health, but your work should also be one of the places to turn to for support.
One in four people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England, according to Mind, and the cost of living crisis is making things worse.
Many workers are becoming so anxious about the cost of living crisis that it’s having a knock-on effect on their performance at work. Two-thirds of managers surveyed by the Chartered Management Institute reported issues such as rising absenteeism and lack of engagement among stressed-out staff.
But mental health problems don’t always impact productivity, and the majority of people who are supported to maintain positive mental health or manage the symptoms of a mental illness are able to have successful careers.
Organisations that prioritise employee wellbeing have workers who are more productive, loyal, and less likely to take time off sick, according to Mind.
“With poor mental health rife across the nation, supporting staff wellbeing has never been a greater priority for employers,” says Emma Mamo, head of workplace wellbeing at Mind.Here’s what employers should be doing to help their staff maintain positive mental health, and where to turn if you need support at work.
What can your boss do to support your mental health?
There are plenty of “small, inexpensive adjustments,” says Mamo, that employers can put in place to meet the needs each of their employees.
One way workplaces can support their staff to manage their mental health is by offering flexible working. Flexible working gives employees more control over how, where and when they work. This can improve work/life balance and allow people to better manage the symptoms of anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses.
A 2019 study of employees at 115 companies by team-building company Wildgoose, found more than a third of flexible workers have seen an improvement in their mental health.
Mind also suggests subsidised exercise classes and generous holiday allowances “can make a huge difference to employees.”
Mamo recommends using Mind’s Wellness Action Plans, available for free online. She says: “Drawn up with your manager, these tailored plans can allow you to identify your individual triggers for stress and poor mental health and outline what can help prevent or alleviate symptoms.”
Training courses such as Mental Health First Aid or those available from Mind can provide employers and employees with a better understanding and awareness. There is currently no legal requirement for allocated mental health first aiders in workplaces, though there is a requirement for physical first aiders or fire marshalls.
Mental health first aiders or champions are team members who are specifically trained in mental health awareness and on what to do if one of their colleagues needs support with their mental health. They are also trained on how to recognise when someone needs help, which is particularly important when the person suffering may not have acknowledged it themselves.
“Because our physical and mental health go hand in hand, we would like to see training given the same priority as physical first aid within workplaces, so that staff know what to do if a colleague is experiencing mental health problems, or a mental health crisis,” says Mamo.
What resources are there for managers to support their employees with their mental health?
Mental health charity Mind offers a range of free, online classes to raise awareness of different mental health conditions and equip managers to support employees experiencing these, as well as support positive mental health in their teams.
The charity also offers virtual training for employers and employees via Zoom which includes tips for conversations about mental health with employees.
What legal requirements are there on employers to support those struggling with their mental health?
Under the Equality Act 2010, employees who disclose they experience a disability, including mental health problems that have substantial effects on their day-to-day activities, are legally entitled to reasonable adjustments.
These could include more regular catch-ups with managers, change of workspace, working hours, or breaks.
Mamo says: “We want employers to create an environment where staff feel able to talk openly about stress and poor mental health at work, including any issues they’re facing – whether personal, professional or a combination.”
How can you approach conversations about mental health at work?
If you’re worried about a colleague, ask them how they’re doing, listen non-judgmentally, be supportive and signpost to support both internally and externally.
Mamo says: “Try to avoid making assumptions about your colleague’s mental health and how it might impact on their work. People with mental health problems can and do make a valuable contribution to the workplace, but some may need some extra support.”
How to ask your boss for support with your mental health
It can feel challenging to open up to your boss for the first time.
Ideally, your manager or supervisor would create a space for you to talk about any issues you’re facing – personal or professional – by regularly checking in with staff or by including a ‘temperature check’ in meetings to examine the current measures in place to support mental wellbeing.
If your manager doesn’t create the space for you to be able to talk about wellbeing, it can be more difficult to start this dialogue. It depends on the relationship you have with your manager, but if you have a good relationship and trust them, you could meet them one to one to discuss what’s going on. Having someone from HR present will make the meeting more formal, and normally wouldn’t be necessary in the first instance. But if you didn’t get anywhere with the first meeting then it might be a sensible next step.
If you’re thinking of speaking to your boss for the first time, also think about where you want the meeting to take place
If you don’t get anywhere with your managers and HR team, or if you are treated differently, demoted or even lose your job because of disclosing a mental health problem, seek advice from Acas or Mind’s legal line – 0300 466 6463 (lines open Mon-Fri, 9am-6pm or email firstname.lastname@example.org.).
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