A manager's guide to promoting positive mental health
By Gemma Thomas
December 4 2015 - With around one quarter of the UK population expected to encounter a mental health issue within their lifetime, it is clear that managing this societal challenge will require a team effort. Employers are increasingly expected to be part of this team as many of those experiencing mental health difficulties are doing so within the workplace. Yet even with mental health attracting a greater media profile, awareness about how to support and encourage employees with mental health challenges remains at a relatively low level. Here we take a closer look at the business case for promoting positive mental health and find out how responsible employers can take a proactive approach.
Why promote positive mental health?
Employees are one of the most valuable resources available to any business so it is in an employer's best interests to ensure that their staff are healthy and productive. Whilst traditionally companies have been ready, willing and able to acknowledge physical illness within the workforce and put measures in place to support employees who become physically ill, mental health has until recently remained somewhat of a taboo subject. Yet it is just as important to ensure that staff are mentally well. Spotting and supporting employees with conditions such as anxiety, depression and stress is a key responsibility for companies today - ignoring the problem just won't wash and is likely to be counterproductive in business terms. As many as one in six British workers fall prey to these conditions each year, so this is a large scale problem which isn't going to go away.
What should employers do?
The first step in terms of tackling mental health issues within the workplace is to acknowledge their existence. Be open, honest and realistic about these issues and ensure staff know that you are committed to providing help within an understanding environment. Start to think about specific measures you could take which would work within the context of your business and would lead to the creation of a mentally healthy workplace. As well as providing a safety net for staff and promoting the organisation's productivity levels this will also ensure you are fulfilling your obligations in terms of ‘duty of care' under UK health and safety legislation. A good starting place is to undertake a review of policies and practices you already have in place and assess these in terms of their positive or negative impacts on mental health. Depending on the size of the organisation you may wish to carry out a workplace survey- this will provide an insight into how employees feel about the company's current approach to mental health and wellbeing.
Accessing external resources
It would be unfair to expect employers to become overnight experts on mental health and with so many external sources of information and advice already available, you don't have to. Tapping into resources provided by government backed and voluntary bodies specialising in this area is a great short cut to learning about workplace mental health issues. Organisations such as Mind provide a range of guides and tools to help employers develop strategies which work for them. Targeted campaigns like ‘Time to Change' (delivered by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness) are specifically aimed at employers to help them understand the issues and tackle them more effectively. The ‘Mindful Employer'campaign which is run by Workways in Devon operates across the UK. It encourages businesses to become signatories to a ‘Charter for Employers who are Positive about Mental Health' and to take a proactive approach to the issue of mental health within their workplace. They help connect employers who are starting to think about mental health with other companies who have already implemented new approaches, so they can learn from each other's experiences.
Each organisation will need to tailor their approach to suit their particular circumstances, but there are certain key components which often feature in positive workplace mental health strategies. These include:
- A public commitment from the top of the organisation to treat mental health promotion as a business priority.
- Communication from senior management to encourage employees to be open about their issues and to reassure them that these will be dealt with on a confidential basis.
- Flexibility for staff facing mental health issues and willingness to make adjustments to their workplace conditions if this is necessary to help them manage the ups and downs of their condition.
- Training in mental health awareness across the workforce.
These building blocks can provide a foundation for a much broader and comprehensive approach to positive mental health.
Renowned American self-help author Wayne Dyer once said,
"If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change."
By changing the way you view mental health challenges within your workplace, you could change your perspective and release the hidden potential of a large part of your workforce.