4 Ways to Improve the Mental Health of Your Staff

05 August 2016 -


Mental health issues are the biggest illness for people of working age

Jermaine Haughton

Businesses across the UK are becoming increasingly concerned about the lack of coping and preventative measures in place for employees with mental health issues, according to new research.

Some 53% of HR staff have found themselves providing counselling to staff, a MetLife Employee Benefits study found, and 67% of those questioned think mental illness is a major issue at their workplace.

HR staff are increasingly being asked to deal with issues which are not strictly within their job description, with family and personal issues spilling into the office. More than three quarters (76%) of respondents say they are surprised about the level of personal and private information staff tell them, and 22% say they have even provided marriage and relationship counselling.

And the impact of mental health on the workplace is not just limited to managers and HR staff having to provide support to their employees.

One in five workers have been forced to take a day or more off work as a result of stress, with the condition also responsible for 10% of resignations, with the cost to the UK economy, the National Health Service and society as a whole estimated at around £105 billion.

Westfield Health’s Mental Resilience Survey also found that the negative impact of work is having a serious impact on the nation’s mental health.

The survey found that 38% of UK employees say their working environment is having a negative effect on their mental state of mind, and one in two feel that their workplace ‘does not manage mental health issues well’.

Tom Gaynor, employee benefits director of life insurance company MetLife UK, believes more training, support and resources are needed for line managers and HR teams to help break down barriers around mental health issues in the workplace.

“The pressure on HR departments from dealing with mental health issues is growing and shows the strain they are under dealing with issues they are not necessarily trained for,” he said. “It also highlights a significant gap in training and the capability of line managers to fulfil this business critical role.

“It is positive to the extent that employees are willing to talk about and acknowledge that they are under stress, but clearly it is preferable that staff do not get to the point where they have to seek help. Addressing mental health issues in the workplace does not need to be expensive and there are simple steps that organisations can take such as conducting stress audits and making full use of employee benefits and wellness programmes.”

Here are four practical ways you can improve the mental health of your team:

1. Review Your Current Processes and Policies

Before developing new mental health policies and practices, you should investigate the current state of your workforce and take stock of how current systems are affecting the happiness and health of employees.

This can be done through a comprehensive staff survey, which includes questions to gauge the mental wellbeing of your workplace and is anonymous.

Example questions include; do you feel supported by your manager and colleagues? Are the responsibilities and expectations of your work clearly communicated to you? Is there anything else your organisation could do to improve your mental wellbeing?

The survey should allow room for employees to elaborate on their Yes/No answers.

The study’s findings will provide insight into some of the challenges that your employees face, their attitude to their work and employer and help you spot hazardous processes within the workplace.

2. Help Workers Identify Mental Health Risks

Unlike a broken leg or a black eye, mental health issues are usually less obvious to detect. Some people will attempt to push their negative feelings and thoughts to the back of their mind, while others will fail to acknowledge it at all.

Therefore, you should install a number of initiatives to help employees recognise their risk factors and symptoms, and equip them with the knowledge of how to seek treatment for their illnesses independently.

Having brochures and posters highlighting symptoms of mental health problems around the office helps, as well as providing people access to confidential mental health screenings.

Screenings can be completed in total privacy and employees can be given immediate feedback about their results, as well as information about community resources that can assess and treat mental health problems.

By inviting a mental health professional from the community to come into the office to give free screenings to all staff, you can help break down the stigma of mental health, encourage greater conversation on the issue and allow staff to identify if they have any issues.

3. Help Staff Maintain a Healthy Work life Balance

With the increasing time and money pressures on employers to be more efficient and productive, maintaining a healthy work-life balance can often be easier said than done.

You, therefore, should both be aware and proactive in ensuring your teams are not overworking, and sacrificing quality time with their friends and family.

Is there an individual who is always the last one in the office? Are you and your team working too many hours? These are the type of questions you should be constantly reviewing to make sure the line is drawn between work and personal life.

Ultimately, you have a duty to lead by example by sending a clear message to your staff that their wellbeing matters.

When risk factors are identified, you should discuss reducing individual workloads, introduce flexible working or prevent staff from replying to emails and calls after office hours, etc.

Furthermore, managers should actively encourage your team to adopt healthier working habits by promoting local running or gym clubs, ensuring staff take full lunch breaks, take annual leave and are resting and recuperating after busy periods.

4. Train Managers and Employees in Mental Health Aid

Most companies have an employee trained in first aid. But mental ill health is the most prevalent cause of illness among people of working age.

Appointing someone as a mental health expert or training a number of people in awareness would make a huge difference and training is available from a variety of organisations.

Educating managers on how to address employee mental health can ensure that employees feel safe to talk about their concerns and it will increase the likelihood that they’ll access available resources.

This is particularly important in cases where employees who have suffered mental illness incidents are returning to work. Often the longer someone is off work the harder and more difficult it is going to be to successfully return.

Therefore, having senior members of staff with mental health aid training, who can both confidently hold well-informed and open discussions with the individual, and set out a structured return-to-work routine, which may include flexitime or more isolated tasks, to reintegrate the person into the workplace can prevent and minimise the chance of a relapse.

Although there are effective treatments for psychological disorders, they may recur.

It is therefore important to plan for ‘slips’ in a timely manner so that they are less likely to impair functioning and result in RTD (return to disability).

These efforts will only be successful if the working environment is psychologically healthy.

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