For many people, work is such a major part of our lives. It is where we spend much of our time, where we get our income and often where we make our friends, and having a fulfilling job can be good for your mental health and general wellbeing.
This is why it is so important to address mental health at work for those with existing issues, for those at risk, and for the workforce as a whole, as a toxic work environment can be corrosive to our mental health as well as having a negative impact on productivity, efficiency and effectiveness.
While absence levels are currently at their lowest, mental health is currently the most common cause of long term absence and so it is important that employers adopt a more proactive approach in ensuring line managers feel equipped to provide the support their employees need, as well as finding value in providing some sort of mental health/mindfulness training to assist employees in providing the tools required for employees to actively manage their mental health and wellbeing.
WHAT CAN EMPLOYERS DO TO HELP THOSE AT RISK?
- Choose a comfortable place to talk, allocating enough time to ensure the discussion isn’t rushed and ensure that the employee can open up about their feelings, feeling safe that the discussion is confidential and important to the employer.
- Apply active listening techniques to ensure that the employee remains engaged in the conversation.
- Ensure that discussions are carried out without showing signs of judgement, and making sure that the employee is treated with respect. Don’t make the conversation about you or your experiences and stay focussed on the employee’s thoughts and feelings.
WHAT IF THE EMPLOYEE IS ABSENT FROM WORK?
Many employees who have mental health problems dread returning to work after being off sick because of their mental health, as it can be awkward to know what to say when people have been ill, especially if it has never been talked about.
Whether you are a manager or a colleague, keeping in touch and letting someone know you care is a great way to prevent awkwardness:
- Ask the employee what they would like their colleagues to be told. Remind colleagues that the image the person presents to the world – perhaps through social media – might not reflect their reality.
- Conduct regular care calls just as you would if they had any other health problem.
- Give them a call a few days before they return to work to ask if there’s anything you can do to help (maybe give their desk a tidy, agree to meet for coffee and walk in together, or go for lunch on the first day).
- Greet them when they are back – they are unlikely to want a fuss made, but you shouldn’t shy away from talking about their absence. Ask them how they are, and if there’s anything you can do to support them from here onwards. Think of their absence like any other, are there any reasonable adjustments or support that the employee needs to return successfully.
- Help them get back into work routines – ask if they would like your support or attendance at meetings.
Getting wellbeing right can improve productivity, absence rates and morale. Getting it wrong can be costly and, in extreme situations, can give rise to claims for discrimination or personal injury. It can only be a positive thing that employee wellbeing is starting to rise to the top of the HR agenda.
If we can help you with this or any other HR issue, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our HR Team at HR Services Scotland Ltd on 0800 652 2610