The way the workplace operates has changed a lot throughout the years. Companies have begun to understand that employees want responsibility, autonomy, and respect in their roles, and studies have shown that happy employees are more motivated, with a direct link to higher performance levels. Alongside these developments, mental health awareness and understanding have been making great leaps and bounds of their own over the past few decades, gone are the days of mental asylums and lobotomies. Despite these two areas developing alongside each other, there is still a stigma surrounding mental health when it comes to the workplace.
The effect and impact your job can have on your life and well-being is major; considering the standard full-time job here in the UK will consist of anywhere from 35 to 40 hours a week and with there being 168 hours in a week with at least 56 of those being spent unconscious, that is 36% of your waking hours spent away from your hobbies, friends & family – and taking into account commuting time, which across the UK is an average of 1 hour per day we see that percentage rise to 42% of hours spent focusing on work-related areas in any given week. So what happens when your work doesn’t allow you to ‘turn off’ outside of that 42%. Checking emails in the evening, trying to meet tight deadlines by putting extra hours in over the weekend, thinking about that ‘disagreement’ with your boss whilst you’re trying to get to sleep – soon that 42% of time spent focussing on work has risen well above the 50% mark; which doesn’t give you a lot of time to focus on your own self-care. As your job dominates so much of your time it makes sense that your employer should have a duty of care to ensure that those hours are not causing you greater stress, and that’s where the discussion of mental health comes in.
When an employee feels stressed, overworked, unsafe, under-appreciated, and undervalued then their motivation levels will drop. With a drop in motivation, you will see productivity plummet, sick leave rise and turnover rates increase. Your company culture will deteriorate and trust me, bad culture is like a bug infestation, easier to get then you realise and a massive pain to get rid of. Alongside all these negatives that affect the employer the employee will now be in the perfect environment for mental health complications to manifest. A workplace that has poor company communication, restricts the freedoms and autonomy of job roles, lack of flexibility around working hours, and where bullying and psychological harassment is present, can cause mental health issues such as stress, depression, anxiety, and even PTSD.
Much like how you would not be expected to work in an environment where you run a high risk of being caused physical harm from poor health and safety practises, you should also not be expected to work in an environment where your mental health is at jeopardy. The employer can introduce many employee initiatives, benefits and processes to help reduce the mental health risks of the workplace in the form of:
- Flexible working; this can be done via core hours, opportunities to work from home or even just allowing employees to take that extra 30 minutes at lunch every now and then for that appointment that they’ve struggled to get for the last few weeks. By granting your employees a bit more freedom around their work they will feel respected and valued by the company and will have less stress around their work life balance.
- Regular 1-2-1’s; having 1-2-1s scheduled, monthly, quarterly or even every 6 months will encourage communication between employees and their managers. Higher communication should translate to stronger relationships with more trust and accountability present.
- Employee Assistance Programmes; EAP’s, though a minor cost for the company, can end up saving money in the long term. EAP’s are a third party provider who offer support and assistance to your employees with anything from help with financial management, counselling, physical and mental health assessments and much more. By providing this benefit to your employees you are demonstrating that you care about their wellbeing, showing them that you respect them as people and not just numbers.
- Mental Health First Aid; MHFA training educates company ‘champions’ on mental health from identifying warning signs, how to open up the conversation and how to support employees who are experiencing mental health problems. This helps open up the discussion of mental health in a structured and safe way.
These are just a handful of solutions that the employer can implement to help create a more positive working environment, but what about the issue of time off for mental health? Well one of the best ways to approach this is by conducting non-judgemental return to works. If you conduct a return to work, either structured or casual, when an employee is off for any kind of illness then, similar to a 1-2-1, you will build a relationship of trust and communication. The importance here is that the employer should not put any judgement on the individual. The last thing an employee needs when opening up about their mental health struggles is for them to be told that it is ‘all in their head’, that there is ‘nothing we can do’ and that any further sickness will result in ‘further action’. This will completely shut down the discussion and will likely cause the employee’s mental wellbeing to deteriorate further as now they feel punished for being unwell.
To support an employee with mental health problems it is important to engage with them, ask them if they feel that there is anything the workplace can do to assist them. The issues may be external to the workplace however offering the employee flexible working, either for the short or long term, scheduling regular catch-ups with them to check on their wellbeing and even redistributing some of their responsibilities, should the employee feel this could help, are all ways that you can try and support them through this difficult time. In turn when the employee feels more able to cope, as the company has shown they respect and value the individual, then their motivation and productivity will most likely improve.
If you would like to learn more about mental health in the workplace then check out the following resources: