What many people don’t realise is that mental health recovery starts and ends with community.
While hospital care is effective for the management of acute crises, the majority of recovery - and of learning to manage one’s own mental health - is undertaken in the community, with the support of social networks. This includes friends, family, the wider population, and of course, the workplace.
Our workplace is an integral part of our daily lives. In fact, it is estimated that we will spend up to one-third of our lives at work, and it influences not just our careers, but our relationships, attitudes towards learning and development, and our views on the world.
However, mental health problems at work are more prevalent than many might think, as according to the Mental Health Foundation, 14.7% of employees develop mental health problems while in the workplace.
Mental health issues can cause symptoms like mood swings, fatigue, and loss of concentration and motivation – all of which can create obstacles in a working environment. Poor employee mental health may also result in a greater number of sickness days, which can lead to a loss of productivity and a reduction in revenues for many businesses.
Therefore, it is essential for employers to know how to correctly approach conversations around mental health, and to build a workplace culture that is conducive to achieving and maintaining high levels of employee wellbeing.
Presenteeism And The Cost Of Poor Mental Health
Many managers’ and business owners’ first priority is to ensure that their employees are doing their job to the best of their ability. Performance targets help to keep many employees on track when they’re fit and well, but what happens when the pressure becomes too much?
Presenteeism is when employees continue to show up to work even when they are physically or mentally unwell. This is often due to feelings of pressure, and/or concerns that they may lose their job or face other repercussions if they take too many sick days.
The level of presenteeism has escalated dramatically over the past decade; according to the CIPD Health and Wellbeing Act Work survey, 86% of respondents had observed presenteeism in their organisation in 2018, compared to just 26% in 2010.
And while the concept of employees clocking in for work despite poor mental and physical health may initially seem appealing to employers, the hidden costs far outweigh the benefits.
In fact, according to statistics released by Global Corporate Challenge (GCC), presenteeism could cost employers up to ten times more than employees who take time off work. This is due to the combined cost of reduced productivity and mistakes made at work due to ill health.
Plus, according to The Centre For Mental Health UK, the total cost of presenteeism to the UK economy is £15.1 billion per annum, in comparison with just £8.4 billion for absences. And data from the Financial Times has also shown that these ‘presentee’ days eventually catch up with us, with as many as 35 working days a year lost due to presenteeism versus just three for absenteeism.
According to CIPD, presenteeism has also been linked to the development of more serious mental health conditions - including anxiety and depression - the long-term effects of which can result in increased absences and greater difficulty handling workloads.
Going to work while unwell can also cause problems within the workplace culture, as issues such as reduced efficiency and labile moods may result in damage to working relationships and cause stress for other team members.
Our Five Ways To Help Your Employees With Their Mental Health
1. Have A Plan
If you know that one or more of your employees has a diagnosed mental health condition, or has recently been on leave due to stress, it may be helpful to formulate a Wellness Action Plan (WAP).
This plan should be created by the employee and shared with their manager or supervisor, and then kept strictly confidential unless the employee gives their consent to share it with other members of the team.
A Wellness Action Plan should encourage employees to reflect on:
• The way they work when they are mentally healthy - including their skills, experience, and personal attributes.
• What helps them to stay mentally healthy at work - for example, regular breaks, healthy eating, limiting stress etc.
• The support and reasonable adjustments available to them.
• Any signs that their mental health is deteriorating. This can include self-harm and/or neglect, which may be evident in signs of self-harming behaviours (such as cuts, burns, and bruises), inadequate personal hygiene, eating poorly or reduced interest in eating, issues with housing - such as failing to pay bills or living in unsanitary conditions, and disinterest or unwillingness to treat any mental or physical health conditions.
In cases of psychosis - or mental health conditions with psychotic and/or manic features such as bipolar disorder - there may be cognitive symptoms, such as hallucinations, delusions, flight of ideas and pressured speech (i.e. continuous rapid speech and jumping from topic to topic with tenuous links, meaning the speech may not make much sense to the listener).
• Factors that trigger a deterioration in their mental health. This may vary greatly depending on the individual and their condition, so it is important that the employee feels comfortable disclosing their experience.
Reasonable adjustments may need to be made for employees to avoid their triggers. For example, employees with an eating disorder may require a separate break room or quiet space if they do not like to be observed while eating.
• The ways in which stress or a deterioration in mental health may affect their work (eg. poor motivation, reduced attention span, difficulty meeting deadlines, interpersonal conflicts etc.).
• The effective steps that may help them to remain well, including creating action plans with the relevant mental and/or physical health teams.
• What support is required from their manager - e.g. the ability to apply for sick leave or reasonable adjustments to working conditions.
2. Keep A Regular Routine (With Regular Breaks)
Keeping a regular routine is instrumental in managing mental health issues. It helps the individual to stay on top of their work, eat and exercise regularly, create healthy habits, and manage feelings of depression and anxiety.
This routine should include regular breaks.
Breaks can improve memory, attention span, and energy levels, and can help individuals de-escalate if they are struggling with mood swings. In the workplace, this may improve efficiency, reduce interpersonal conflict, and help to prevent further deterioration.
In particular, 'movement breaks' will encourage exercise, which can be especially beneficial.
Exercise helps to regulate mood, releases endorphins, and boosts energy levels and concentration. An easy way to promote movement breaks is to encourage employees to go for a walk during their lunch hour, or to attend workplace fitness events or venues such as gyms.
Another effective way of implementing a wellness break is by incorporating mindfulness activities into a routine.
Mindfulness activities encourage the individual to stay present in the moment. These can be as long or as short as required, and can be made into fun and engaging team bonding exercises. For example, you could implement a 3-minute mindfulness meditation at the beginning of meetings, or play memory games such as Shopping List.
3. Emphasise Workplace Wellness, Not Just Individual Responsibility
Workplace stress may affect whole teams, not just individuals who are already predisposed to mental health conditions. And if your team members are regularly unable to manage their workload, or if there is an unhealthy work culture in your organisation, you may find that multiple people need to take time off for stress.
By ensuring that workloads are kept manageable, that interpersonal conflict and workplace bullying are professionally and effectively handled, and that all members of the team are supported, you will help employees to stay on top of their own mental health and make sure that you’re getting the best from them.
4. Regular Supervision
All members of staff should have regular supervision that allows them to bring up any issues they are currently experiencing at work or in their personal lives. This helps managers to make any reasonable adjustments when required, and to provide emotional support where necessary.
As a consequence, this will help to encourage effective communication between staff and management, and deal with any issues before they start to escalate. However, be aware that supervision should be conducted in a confidential, supportive, and non-judgemental atmosphere.
It may be more effective to use one-on-one communication with the employee, as this can be less overwhelming for them, and can prevent the situation from appearing confrontational or threatening.
5. Mental Health Training
Regular training is essential for staying up to date on the guidance and legislation relating to mental health conditions.
Training helps to raise awareness of mental health issues, provides a supportive atmosphere, and builds on workplace values of empathy and teamwork to ensure that employees feel able to disclose - and effectively manage - their mental health within the team.
Thankfully, there are many excellent training resources that employers can use to keep themselves and their team informed about the current best practices and recommend techniques for maintaining optimal mental health.
For example, one the mental health charity Mind offer a licensed eLearning course on Mental Health Awareness at Work.
Alternatively, contact us at KH First Aid Training and we will be happy to help!