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How to look after employee mental health in the workplace

06 October 2021

WITH WORLD Mental Health Day around the corner, employers will be asking themselves if they are doing enough to address mental ill-health in the workplace and sadly for many, the answer will be no.

Fortunately, companies do not need substantial budgets and resources to improve mental health and raise awareness across their organisation, and there are a number of actions which can be taken by both employers and employees to ensure a positive working environment where mental health and wellbeing is taken seriously.

According to the HSE, stress, depression or anxiety now account for 55% of all working days lost due to work-related ill health. This figure has drastically increased over the last few years and so business leaders must consider how they can address it. 

The desire for change

Talking to James Wilson, mental health first aider and new business sales manager at iHASCO, the right attitude towards mental health needs to come from the top. “Leaders and managers are in a great position to check in with their staff and find out how they are coping. Only by building a culture whereby mental health and wellbeing is prioritised, will employees feel able to open up about any mental health difficulties. We’ve been on our own journey as a business in the past couple of years and now fully understand and appreciate just how important mental health and wellbeing is to achieving our goals.”

This obviously takes time, but perhaps if there is one good thing to come out of the COVID pandemic it’s that people are talking more openly about their mental health. Breaking down the stigma surrounding this topic is hugely important if companies are to make a positive impact when it comes to normalising conversations about mental ill-health.

Recently, there have been numerous examples of companies providing staff with wellbeing days, to take time off and recharge after additional pressures placed on them as a result of COVID. While this is a noble gesture it is unlikely to make any lasting impact on mental health in the workplace unless it is supported with a range of proactive measures. A holistic approach, where employee mental health and wellbeing is fully embedded into every fibre of a company’s culture is key to achieve change.

Change starts with small steps

If an employer is truly committed to addressing mental ill-health in the workplace, there are many resources available to guide and support that journey. This could be as simple as listening to a podcast or downloading a whitepaper. From this, gain information and ideas to support employee wellbeing and translate them into a mental health strategy - one that supports those already diagnosed with a mental health condition, as well as focusing on preventative measures.

It can be difficult to start the conversation, but there are many ways an employer can raise awareness of mental health in the workplace. Enrol employees on appropriate online training courses, organise a seminar with a guest speaker, or simply email helpful guides & blog links which address mental health awareness and offer advice on improving wellbeing, understanding and easing workplace stress and managing anxiety. It’s important to recognise that these first steps must be followed up and communication should be sent regularly, so employees can become more comfortable with discussing these topics at work more openly. 

In addition to this, consider other support mechanisms for employees. It could be wellbeing check-ins with line managers, Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) or Mental Health First Aiders. “Providing employees with a platform to talk about their mental health and wellbeing will allow them to reach out for help when they need it”, says James Wilson. “Sometimes having someone there to listen can make a real difference. That’s where being a trained mental health first aider or using an EAP can be a big help - as the right knowledge and support can be given.”

Most importantly, lead by example. Showing vulnerability and being honest can go a long way towards building an open culture that discusses mental health freely and encourages employees to support one another. This World Mental Health Day employers have the opportunity to make a positive impact on mental health awareness in the workplace. All it takes is those first small steps to lead to big changes.