15.8 million working days lost to mental health every year – how to read the signs and support your employees.

According to a research project QBE conducted in April this year, half of UK-based senior decision makers have received no formal mental health training. However, on average, a person suffering from work-related stress takes a staggering extra 23 days leave pro rata, so isn’t it about time we started paying attention to mental health in the workplace?

Risks

We understand that it’s a sensitive topic, but refusal to address mental health in the workplace poses a few daunting risks we’re sure you’ll want to avoid:

  • 37% of mental health sufferers are likely to get into conflict with an employee
  • 62% of mental health sufferers take longer to do tasks
  • Half of mental health suffers are potentially less patient with customers of clients
  • Mental health has the potential to cost UK companies upwards of £35bn
  • Mental health already claims a £70-100bn chunk of the UK economy each year

While one in five of the senior leaders that were surveyed said they would not want to hire someone with a declared mental illness, those living with mental health problems contribute £226bn to the economy each year, accounting for 12.1% of the UK’s total GDP. It’s not about dismissing those who are going through a rough patch, but creating an effective nurturing environment to support the wellbeing of your employees. Here are three easy steps to incorporate into your workplace mental health strategy:

Prevent

Consider the following proactive and practical tips to create an environment less prone to mental health problems:

  • Promote inclusivity and openness so employees feel comfortable sharing with you.
  • Maintain strong policies in equality, harassment and anti-bullying so employees feel confident and accepted.
  • Make use of mental health courses to provide relevant training to line managers. Equip and encourage them to be pro-active but sensitive around any issues that arise.
  • Make HR approachable so that employees feel they will be taken seriously if they speak up.
  • Encourage a healthy work-life balance.
  • Introduce a confidential employee helpline.
  • Set time aside to educate all staff about mental health issues so they know who to approach.

Identify

Be aware of the warning signs of an employee struggling to cope and ensure line managers are also alert to these. Indicators can include:

  • Changes in behaviour
  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Tiredness
  • Lack of appetite
  • Chest and/or other musculoskeletal pains
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling restless
  • Nervous twitches
  • Irritability

Act

Once an issue has been identified, it is important to;

  • Arrange regular meetings to discuss concerns and support measures.
  • Consider adjustments such as flexible working arrangements (e.g. working from home), extended deadlines, making use of mental health organisations and services for training and stress management courses etc. Each individual’s needs and requirements have to be considered, for example an employee whose depression is founded on feelings of loneliness and isolation is not likely to benefit from flexible working.
  • Obtain, but do not rely solely on medical advice – employers should make their own assessment with input from the employee on their current and future capabilities.
  • Keep clear records of discussions from meetings, however be conscious of the sensitive nature of personal data and ensure it is dealt with confidentially.

A key point for employers to consider is the length of time that employees could ­find themselves away from work while they recover from mental health episodes. Workplace rehabilitation always benefits with early intervention, and mental health need not be treated any differently.

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