Mental health days off and three other ways you can look after your staff

15 September 2017 -

Mental Health CareLooking for new ways to help your staff handle their stress, anxiety and depression? Insights reveals innovative ways of helping employees with their mental health

Jermaine Haughton

A positive, empathetic and proactive attitude to managing mental health issues in the office can make all the difference to your team, as shown by forward-thinking managers such as Ben Congleton, boss at software company Olark Live Chat.

Colleague Madalyn Parker, a web developer and engineer, decided to take some time off for her emotional well-being, and wrote an email titled 'Where's Madalyn' to explain her absence. "Hey team," she wrote. "I'm taking today and tomorrow to focus on my mental health. Hopefully I'll be back next week refreshed and back to 100 percent."

In a reply, Congleton showed his understanding and support for Parker by thanking her “for sending emails like this” because “every time you do, I use it as a reminder of the importance of using sick days for mental health”.

The chief executive continued: “I can’t believe this is not standard practice at all organisations. You are an example to us all, and help cut through the stigma so we can all bring our whole selves to work.”

In appreciation, Parker shared the message on Twitter, and it went viral receiving over 201 mainly positive replies, 8,473 retweets and over 30,000 likes.

Read more: Managers struggle in ‘always on’ work culture

Successive studies show that the myth of the “stiff upper lip” is still present in many UK offices, with individuals suffering with mental health issues avoiding seeking the required help and rest necessary for a full recovery, as would be case with physical injuries such as a broken leg.

The heart-warming exchange detailed above highlights a valuable (and necessary) moment when an employee felt able to talk openly with her manager about any emotional and mental struggles she may be experiencing.

For UK bosses, the business case for supporting mental health in the workplace is clear. With up to 70% of people with common mental disorders in employment, a 2014 study showed that some 70 million working days are lost each year due to stress, depression and other mental health conditions costing Britain £70-100 billion annually, equivalent to 4.5% of the nation's GDP.

Happier workforces, with manageable workloads and a well-adjusted work-life balance, are more productive and take fewer sick days, but offering meaningful support is easier said than done for employers.

Luckily, there are several companies using innovative, collaborative working practices to reach out to their employees.

Mental Health Champions

Tax and auditing multinational Deloitte has worked for several years discussing methods of supporting the mental health of its 14,000 employees, after senior partner John Binns endured acute depression in 2007.

Working with the mental health charity Mind, Binns and his colleagues established the mental health champions network who are available for informal chats with employees and to provide more detailed advice on the support available to those who might be struggling.

Employees experiencing mental health issues can talk confidentially outside of internal line management structures to trained mental health champions, who can provide reassurance and support. Employees concerned about a member of their team can also obtain support.

“In terms of the individual, it is giving them a message that, actually, they are not the only one,” Binns said. “They probably think they are at the time, but there are quite a few other people and their career is not over.”

Building Safe Spaces

Some employers have found the creation of ‘safe spaces’, areas of the workplace that are designed for individuals and groups to relax and take their minds off work, to be helpful to stressed staff. This can be a small office area or even a beautiful garden, but these are places that top managers encourage their teams to take at least 15-20 minutes break in to get away from their hectic schedule.

For the musically inclined, music rooms are available at some companies. At LinkedIn's headquarters in Mountain View, California, employees can jam out in a music room that's stocked with high-end music equipment like drums, guitars, keyboards, AV equipment, microphone stands, and even stage lighting.

Lion’s Talk

In predominantly customer-facing careers, the pressures of servicing the public can be a source of stress itself. However, a group of hairdressers inventively used their interactions with the public to raise awareness for mental health issues.

Formed in 2015, The Torbay Lion’s Barber Collective is an international collection of top barbers who want to raise awareness about male suicide. Based in Torbay, Devon, the area has seen a rise in young people self-harming and attempting suicide, with many of those local men struggling to access appropriate help in the mental health services.

Founded on the relative closeness and intimacy between many customers and their barbers, the Collective set up a ‘BarberTalk’ programme to train hairdressers in how to “recognise, talk, listen and advise” on mental health.

The Collective educates men on the links between physical and emotional health and, when appropriate, links them to local services.

The community-led project helps to create mentally healthy places and has trialled similar schemes in non-barbershop environments, such as a Lion’s Den with a cafe and access to peer support groups, and a Lion’s Link phone line run by men on evenings and weekends.

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