BLOG: Mental Health at Work

BLOG: Mental Health at Work

This blog is written in conjunction with Shipleys, chartered accountants and professional business advisers based in London and Godalming

It’s no surprise that in a world where our jobs account for most of our time, our mental health affects our working lives just as our profession can impact our mental health. There’s a lot of overlap between these two aspects of our lives.

Mental health problems are very common in the workplace. According to MHFA England, stress, depression or anxiety were responsible for 44% of all cases of work-related ill-health and 54% of all working days lost due to health issues in the UK in 2018/19. The pandemic has only increased the burden of mental ill-health, but the stigma attached often leaves people reluctant to seek treatment. At the same time, managers or colleagues may want to help but aren’t sure how to do so. As a result, mental ill-health often goes unrecognised and untreated.

So, we thought we would share some tips on how best to support mental health in the workplace:

Spot the signs and symptoms

While mental health problems are very personal to each individual, for employers there can sometimes be commonalities when looking for signs that someone is struggling. These commonalities can be summed up in one word: change. Have you noticed a deviation from their normal behaviour? Body language, appearance, what someone says and how, energy levels and tone of voice all provide a window into how someone is feeling.

A colleague might be more tired than usual. They might make uncharacteristic mistakes, find it hard to motivate themselves, timekeeping might slip, or they may be short tempered. They might isolate themselves, avoid colleagues or appear distracted or dishevelled. They might procrastinate more – or they might speed up or become chaotic, intruding into others’ conversations and work, and taking on more than they can manage. The best way to identify these signs is through building lasting relationships with your colleagues and maintaining regular communication. Once you understand what your colleague’s ‘normal’ looks like, you will be able to spot changes.

It can also be helpful to look staff turnover, sickness data, and perhaps introducing regular anonymised staff surveys, asking your colleagues about their mental health and for their opinions on existing workplace support.

Often the source of the problem is external to work. Mental ill-health can stem from a wide range of factors including bereavement, relationship difficulties, financial struggles, past/present trauma, medication side-effects, and so on. So, it is important to encourage difficult conversations but also know when to take a step back and signpost to other avenues of support – whether this be workplace resources or professional support.

Other times, you may need to shift the focus onto yourself. Make a conscious effort to check-in with yourself regularly. Monitor your inner dialogue, acknowledge your feelings, show yourself some compassion and most importantly, ask for help when needed. It is important to look after your own mental health to make sure you can then support others in the best way possible.

Reach out

As more organisations move to permanent remote working, human connection has never been more important. Working from home can increase feelings of loneliness and isolation, which are risk factors for mental ill-health. If you haven’t heard from someone on your team in a while, check-in with them to see if there’s anything they need. Put in more regular one-to-one meetings. Be aware of signs and social cues that could be picked up virtually or over the phone, and don’t hesitate to express your concerns about a colleague’s wellbeing – this could mean the difference between someone getting help and not. Remember, keeping an open dialogue could ensure early prevention and intervention.

Don’t underestimate the power of asking colleagues how they are doing—and giving them space to properly respond. By encouraging open communication, your colleagues are more likely to come to you with concerns, celebrations or when they just need someone to listen. Proactively incorporate conversations around wellbeing into daily, weekly or monthly meetings and catch-ups. Wellness Action Plan templates, developed by Mind, are a free and useful tool to help get a conversation started.

For many people, talking about mental health to their manager is not something they are comfortable with. In fact, of survey of 2,000 workers only 14% felt comfortable discussing their mental health worries at work (MHFA England, 2019). The single most effective way of reducing stigma of mental ill-health is hearing from people who have lived experience. You can lead by example—share your own experiences or struggles if you feel comfortable doing so. Showing a level of vulnerability as a leader may encourage others to open up and seek the support they need. You also can regularly share links to relevant stories or videos, for example from the anti-stigma campaign Time for Change.

Make reasonable adjustments

If you notice someone is struggling or feeling overwhelmed, offer them assistance. This could range from providing additional supervision, adjusting their working hours or pattern, connecting them to your Employee Assistance Programme or other support, changing their workspace or simply lending them a hand with a project they are working on. Ask your colleague what you can do to help them.

Prevention is key

The good news is that conversations around mental health are at the forefront of the pandemic, and people are increasingly speaking up. This aligns with Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England’s hopes to create a society where everyone’s mental health matters.  MHFA is an internationally recognised training course which teaches people to spot the symptoms of mental health issues, offer initial help and guide a person towards support. Oakleaf provides MHFA training both in-person and online. To find out more, please click here.

If you or someone you know is struggling, please make use of the resources below:

Samaritans: 116 123 (24 hours)

Mental Health Foundation: Covid-19 resource library

Mind: How to Find a Therapist

Citizens Advice: 03444 111 444 (Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm)

Surrey Safe Havens: 6-11pm, 365 days a year

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