Thursday 10th October is World Mental Health Day – the annual event dedicated to raising awareness of mental health, reducing the stigma, and promoting treatment and recovery from mental health issues.
For many, life at work is something that tests our mental health. Our jobs can involve handling increased workloads, changing priorities, organisational change, and even redundancy. In order to be able to thrive, we now have to be resilient.
For this year’s World Mental Health Day, we’re sharing some tips on how employers can build a more resilient workplace.
Spot the signs
Managers have a duty of care to look after their employees’ wellbeing, so they 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usual behaviour, a deterioration in their standard of work, increase in sickness absence levels, and appearing withdrawn or more tired than usual.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.
Regular appraisals, planning sessions and informal chats are a good opportunity to bring up any issues. Simply asking “how have you been lately?” can give an employee the chance to open up. It’s vital to listen and show empathy in order to offer the support needed.
If their performance has been affected, you should be honest and ask whether there are any problems that could be causing it. For example; “I’ve noticed that you’ve been arriving late recently and wondered if there was a problem.”
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.
Again, this is where performance appraisals will come in useful. It’s important that managers are equipped with the skills and knowledge to enable them to have conversations about mental health issues without the worry of not knowing what to say, the fear of making things worse, or the fear of legal consequences.
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.
Tackle the causes
The causes of employee stress can be varied, including ineffective management, high workloads, unclear job roles or few opportunities for progression and training.
Managers should look at the possible causes of workplace stress and pre-empt what could lead to problems in future. Many of the causes should have a dedicated company policy to establish guidelines, for example on how to tackle bullying or to clarify an employee’s role. In many situations, prevention is better than cure.