Mental health – pause for the cringe. That uncomfortable topic that affects everyone in some way, but no one really wants to talk about.
Especially when it is personal, but seeps into work life.
For the most part, mental illness is caused by… LIFE! Most of this has to do with matters outside of work. Whether its relationships, health, family, life changes. We could name hundreds. All impact on our mental health in some way, and even though the root cause may have nothing to do with a person’s job or workplace, inevitably it manifests itself somehow, affecting a person’s work.
As a manager and even a colleague, there are signs you may begin to notice if stresses outside the workplace are starting to have an effect on a co-worker’s performance or interactions at work.
These may be physical – appearing run down or tired, sudden weight loss/gain, constant sicknesses, frequent headaches, for example. Emotional and behavioural changes may also be noticed, such as irritability, withdrawing from social activities or conversations, tearfulness, increased conflict with others, loss in confidence or poor decision-making, just to name a few.
You don’t have to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company to know that ANY of these symptoms are going to impact on a person’s performance in their role, which in turn may have a negative effect on your business.
Campaigns such as RUOK? and the like have made employers more aware of mental health in the workplace and have gone some way to reducing the stigma around mental health.
But, if the cause of the mental illness is not work-related, what can you really do?
The Black Dog Institute says that 1 in 6 Australian workers will experience mental illness in any year. The most common mental illnesses are depressive, anxiety and substance abuse. The Black Dog Institute suggests that often some or all of these three illnesses occur in combination.
Even small workplaces will be impacted by these statistics. Ignoring them is impossible.
Most businesses (even larger ones) do not have (or are reluctant to spend) the time or resources required to address issues an employee may be dealing with outside of work, and many take the view that they shouldn’t have to.
But, if an employee’s state of mental health is impacting on their ability to do their job, as their employer you are obliged to take some steps to determine the problem and offering assistance if you can.
But what does this look like?
Without a doubt1, mental illness negatively impacts business in a variety of ways, including absenteeism, productivity, engagement levels. So how can employers address mental health in the workplace to improve these impacts?
From an individual perspective, just asking an employee who you notice is struggling can go a long way. If they do open up and flag an issue, recommending that they see their GP and talking about what is bothering them can be a great start. Their GP can set them up on a mental health plan and put them in touch with a counsellor or psychologist who can help them with a variety of coping mechanisms. Touching base and finding out how the employee is going will also go a long way. Remember, they may not make contact with their doctor without further encouragement. It can be daunting and scary to admit that you are struggling and make that initial contact. Offering to be with the employee when they call to make the appointment may give them the nudge they need.
But, you are not a psychologist, so just listening and providing broad advice is often best. Suggesting professional assistance if you think this will help is often the best way to go
Create the Right Environment
In order to have employees who open up to you, it is vital that you create a work environment where people feel comfortable sharing their struggles.
In addition to supporting employees and building a collaborative work environment which empowers and recognises employees, reducing the stigma around mental illness remains an issue. The Black Dog Institute states that mental illness remains the most stigmatised group of disorders in the workplace. Disclosing that you are dealing with personal issues outside of work that are affecting your mental health is scary and daunting at the best of times. Let’s be honest, no one wants to admit they are struggling, especially in a work environment where your performance is judged sometimes on a daily basis.
Creating a workplace where this stigma is reduced (for example, not allowing jokes or rude remarks around mental illness) as well as encouraging and providing assistance and support is vital to ensuring the mental health of all employees is maintained or, if necessary, addressed.
Being flexible with employees (if appropriate) may also assist if people are dealing with stressful issues outside of work. For example, allowing an employee to use their accrued personal leave or taking authorised leave without pay to deal with relationship breakdowns, issues with dependent children or financial strains can go a long way to making an employee feel supported. Also, encouraging employees to eat well, exercise and get sufficient sleep can also be supported by ensuring an employee is not overloaded with work and working consistently long hours.
Strategies in the Workplace
A number of strategies can be implemented in all workplaces that studies show can effectively reduce significant mental illness at work. These include allowing increased employee control and communication in relation to work hours and location and promoting health strategies (both physical and mental) through education and awareness in the workplace. This could be a simple as placing some healthcare brochures in the lunchroom or approaching local health businesses (such as a gym or pilates studio) to see whether there are any cross-promotional opportunities available.
Just a few suggestions to get you thinking.
There are plenty businesses of all sizes can do to promote mental health well-being in their workplace that doesn’t have to cost a lot of time or money.
For more information about dealing with matters of mental health in your workplace, contact insyncHR.
1 Black Dog Institute