To coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week, the CIPD has revealed that mental ill health is now the number one cause of long-term sickness absence for over one-in-five UK organisations.
However, according to Mental Health First Aid England, only 14% of 2,000 workers polled said they felt comfortable discussing their mental health worries at work compared with 42% of workers who felt able to talk about physical conditions.
Mental health in the workplace should be taken as seriously as physical health. As a result, organisations should work towards creating a culture where mental health can be discussed without judgement or stigma.
Spot the signs
Managers play an important role in tackling workplace stress and other mental health issues. Being aware of the signs to look out for is the first step. These can include changes in an employee’s usual behaviour, a deterioration in their standard of work, increase in sickness absence levels, and appearing withdrawn or more tired than usual.
A manager cannot force an employee to talk about any problems they may be having. However, they can create an environment where these discussions can take place. Sensitive conversations should be held in private, with managers being non-judgemental and allowing the employee to speak without assuming they know what’s wrong.
As with a physical disability, managers should act to make any reasonable adjustments that would allow the employee to continue being able to do their job. Common adjustments may include changes to their schedule, responsibilities, or the working environment.
Monitor the situation
A manager should regularly check on how an employee experiencing stress is feeling and whether any adjustments are still needed or working as required. This could be through planned one-to-one meetings or through informal chats.
If an employee needs to be absent from work to recover from stress, their manager should agree contact to see how they’re getting on. The employee should not be pressured to return prematurely, and it should be agreed on what they’d like colleagues to know in order to maintain privacy.
Once they feel ready to return to work, conduct a return-to-work interview to discuss their absence. Update them on what’s being happening and address any concerns they may have. Consider a phased return if necessary, and make any reasonable adjustments they require.