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Mental health is something that, thankfully, we’re talking about much more, particularly in the workplace. By supporting your employees through any issues they’re going through, you lay the foundations for a more positive, productive culture.

What is mental health?

We all have mental health. It’s essentially our thoughts and feelings, and how we process life’s ups and downs. When our mental health is good, we enjoy life in general. We feel a sense of purpose and are better positioned to face any challenges. We also stand much more chance of fulfilling our potential, achieving goals, and building strong relationships.

Mental health tends to fluctuate for most of us, and curveballs can come out of nowhere as we move through different stages of life – causing our mental health to decline. Our personal and work relationships may also begin to suffer, and we might have problems with sleeping, eating, mood or getting motivated.

How do I recognise if an employee is experiencing poor mental health?

Mental health issues often get worse over time if they’re not recognised and treated fairly quickly. For some people, poor mental health is the result of a specific challenge they’re grappling with. Once that challenge is resolved their mental health improves with no permanent concerns.

Others can suffer with their mental health for months or years where the reasons aren’t so obvious, and therefore need more ongoing support.

The trick is to spot the signs of poor mental health early so you can support your staff members in the way they need. No two people are the same, so be prepared to tailor the support you offer. Each person’s signs and symptoms will vary too, but as a general rule look out for any team members who:

  • Seem sad, low, anxious, or withdrawn
  • Are often late to work or who frequently work more than their contracted hours
  • You know are experiencing emotional upheaval in their private life
  • Are uncharacteristically short-tempered, unmotivated, tired, or tearful
  • Seem to be making more mistakes in their work than usual

This is far from an exhaustive list, and you need to tread carefully. But, by keeping an eye out for the telltale signs of common mental health issues like anxiety and depression in the workplace, support can begin earlier.

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As an employer, what practical steps can I take to support the mental health of my staff?

There are certain things you can do to help prevent poor mental health in your team, and to support anyone who may already be struggling.

Setting clear expectations and giving feedback

Make sure each member of staff understands their job role fully and has had all the right training and support to do it properly. Offer regular constructive feedback and make it clear that they can come to you at any time if they need to raise anything.

Offering flexible work arrangements

Help employees reduce stress and burnout by giving them options to work flexibly if possible. This may mean more working from home for instance, or reducing their hours.

Reducing stigma and promoting awareness

Fostering an open working culture with no judgement is an important step in removing the barriers to speaking up. You might also consider running training courses, social events, and workshops to promote understanding and help take away the fear of stigma or discrimination.

Providing external confidential counselling services

Many workplaces partner up with external counselling services which staff can use either off-site or over the phone. These tax-free counselling services are equipped to help people work through their mental health challenges.

As it’s a confidential service run separately to their workplace, some people can feel more comfortable in opening up. Offering this to staff is also another way to show that these issues are being acknowledged in the workplace.

Having regular one-to-one catch ups (and checking their workload)

We expect our working days to be busy – but not so busy we feel stressed and overwhelmed all the time.

Check in with each member of your team regularly to ask about their wellbeing and their thoughts around work in general. Use the opportunity to make sure their workload is realistic and manageable too. It may be that they need some help to manage their time and the tasks they need to get done.

Encouraging a good work-life balance

Make sure all your staff are taking their full annual leave entitlement, as well having regular breaks during the day. They should also be unplugging fully from work during non-working hours. You could even consider offering a mental health duvet day.

Offering wellness programs

Exercise is known to be a great way to improve mental as well as physical health. Lunch time or after work wellness classes such as meditation and yoga can make a real difference to stress reduction. You could even get a wellness committee together to help organise and run the events.

If an employee wants to talk about their mental health with you

When an employee approaches you, give them plenty of time and space to explain how they have been feeling. Make sure you listen carefully to what they’re saying and try to identify what the underlying cause is.

Also, think about specific things you could offer to help them and ask them what they think might help too. Above all, reassure them that you hear what they’re saying and will get them the support they need.

As a general point, don’t try to ‘fix’ their problems for them, however tempting it may be. Instead, suggest professional services they might find useful, including speaking to their GP if you suspect a deeper issue beyond work.

Talking about mental health is still very difficult for some people, so make sure you’re reassuring, calm and supportive above all.

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About The Author

Stephanie Whalley

Serial snacker, compulsive cocktail sipper and full time wordsmith with a penchant for alliteration, all things marketing and pineapple on pizza.

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