Guest Blog James Malia, Director of Employee Benefits at Sodexo Engage, specialists in employee and consumer engagement
The past year has been a game changer for mental health awareness, with the government, media and public putting it firmly on the agenda. And rightly so. Around one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year, but, for various reasons, it’s still much harder to talk about than physical health.
The recent government report “Thriving at Work” looked at the link between mental health and the workplace. It showed we still have a long way to go. To select just one finding, whilst there are more people in work with mental health issues than ever before, 300,000 people with mental health issues lose their jobs every year. Clearly something needs to change and employers must take the lead.
Business leaders have a big role to play in creating an understanding environment. It’s not just about those who have lost their jobs – it’s about helping those in work too. A study by the charity MIND found that 60% of employees would feel more motivated if their employer showed support for mental wellbeing.
One of the biggest hurdles we face is the way people see mental health. Many are still too scared to speak to their employer about how they’re feeling in case they’re judged or seen as not able to do their job. A recent survey found that a worrying 85% of UK workers thought there was a stigma attached to mental health issues in the workplace*. Employers need to send a clear signal to staff that mental health matters. Championing good mental health in the workplace will build trust, create happier employees and help break down the stigma.
It’s no secret that people work better in a supportive environment. Managers need to be approachable and encourage their team members to speak openly. They also need to be able to spot the warning signs that someone is struggling. Changes in behaviour, acting withdrawn or an inability to cope with daily tasks could all be signs and managers shouldn’t be afraid to raise the subject. But dealing with serious health issues can be a daunting prospect even for the most experienced manager, so it’s important they are well trained. Learning how to offer the right support and advice, and make positive changes to help the person, is key.
Mental health ambassadors
It can be hard to open up about your weekend plans, let alone if you’re struggling with mental health issues. Creating a team of mental health champions can help break down these barriers. These are people who have not only been through their own challenges, but are able to share them with others. Many people suffering from mental health issues feel they’re alone, so it’s important for everyone to know that it’s okay not to be okay. Having a mental health champion will help normalise conversations about mental health and stop people from feeling isolated.
Worries including money and job pressures can have a knock-on effect on someone’s ability at work. Employers are in a unique position to offer ways to help staff deal with their worries. Anything from managing the day-to-day costs of living, to accessing external financial advice are at an employer’s fingertips. Making sure employees don’t form unhealthy working habits, such as working long hours or weekends, can also help relieve stress. While these may seem like small gestures, showing support can go a long way in improving an employee’s mental wellbeing and overall work satisfaction.
To build an environment that champions mental health, employers need to create a positive culture, mixing preventative and reactive programmes for their employees. By taking these steps, and recognising mental health is as serious as physical health, we can break the culture of silence and tackle the issue head on.
*According to a study by DPG Plc