The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines mental health as a “state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”. Mental health includes emotional, psychological and social wellbeing. Mental ill health can range from the most common mental health issues such as anxiety and depression to the more severe mental health issues such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Interesting to note is the fact that a person’s mental health will change through the course of their life depending on pressures and/or different life experiences. People who experience mental health problems vary in age, gender, ethnicity, national origin and other personal characteristics. They are not a homogenous group. It is significant to recognise that mental ill health issues can affect anyone at any time; at least one in every four people is affected at some point in their lives.
An independent review published in 2017 by Stevenson and Farmer called ‘Thriving to Work: a review of mental health and employers’ found that poor mental health costs the UK economy between £74 billion and £99 billion. Deloitte’s analysis shows that the cost to UK employers is between £33 billion and £42 billion of this figure. Evaluations of workplace interventions show a return to business of between £1.50 and £9 for every £1 invested. What is overwhelmingly clear is that a sustained investment from organisations into workplace intervention programmes and clear and extensive wellbeing and work life balance programmes are critical to addressing employee mental health.
Poor mental health is increasing and it is imperative that employers support mental health and wellbeing in the workplace especially in the fast-moving, ever changing work environment. It makes good business sense to do so and it has a positive impact on productivity and efficiency.
There are several ways in which organisations can commit to the promotion of positive mental health:-
- Develop line manager people management skills –
- Equip managers with the tools to spot early signs, e.g. changes in behaviours, appearance and working style;
- Signpost individuals to support
- Give them the confidence to have conversations with employees who may be experiencing a mental health issue.
- Have the full support of senior leadership.
- Increase awareness of employee assistance programmes and/or independent counselling services which the organisation may provide.
- Monitor workloads and deadlines to ensure people are not under excessive pressure and remain engaged and satisfied at work.
- Promote awareness of mental health in order to reduce the stigma and dispel the myths with facts. Also, provide an open and supportive culture where employees feel that can be honest with their managers will help to remove some of the taboos. An organisation may want to consider having “mental health champions” who are trained and supported to help reduce the stigma, build awareness about mental health issues and promote an open and inclusive organisational culture.
- Promote work-life balance – Long working hours are not sustainable and striking a balance between professional and personal life leads to people being more productive.
- Offer flexible working arrangements so that employees can better manage the demands of their lives, e.g. caring responsibilities, and be more focused while at work.
- Provide any reasonable adjustments that can assist with an employee’s mental health condition. An honest conversation is necessary in order to determine how the condition impacts on the individual’s work and what can be done to help. The line manager will need to know if there is a disclosed disability and the type of adjustment required. Work colleagues should never be told the medical reason behind any decisions.
- Have a procedure in place when specialist advice is required. Managers need to be able to confidently recognise the most suitable course of action and direct affected employees to specialist expert support, e.g. mental health groups or charities, in consultation with any occupational health facilities and/or counselling the organisation may have. Importantly, managers should not be giving advice on a mental health issue especially as they rarely are qualified to do so.
Line managers are often on the front line to spot problems and support employees if they ask for help. A manager’s style, relationship with employees and ability to implement policies and procedures are crucial to how well people feel supported in the workplace. It is believed that a rise in mental health literacy enables managers to recognise the signs of poor mental health with their staff. Line managers need mental health awareness training for any health and wellbeing programme which addresses employee mental health to be impactful.
It only takes one life event to alter a person’s mental health and an organisation that has a more preventative approach to mental wellbeing, an open culture and trained line managers can greatly support an individual’s mental health issues and create a healthier workforce and workplace.
Ms. Jolene King has over 15 years business management and HR international experience gained in the UK, USA and Barbados. She holds a MA degree in Human Resource Management from University of Derby, a MSc. degree in Industrial/Organisational Psychology from Florida Institute of Technology and a BSc. degree in Sociology with Psychology from University of the West Indies, Cave Hill. Ms. King is an active committee member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD) Northamptonshire branch and is an Associate member of the Society for Industrial and Organisational Psychology (SIOP).