Managing Mental Health – Culture

Since the start of the pandemic, the mental health of the workforce has deteriorated significantly. More than 1 in 5 people with no prior experience of mental health issues say their mental health is now poor or very poor, according to the mental health charity MIND.

When people find themselves crying, feeling angry and upset on a daily basis, they’re often left wondering what’s wrong with them. Some might try to reassure themselves that others have it much worse and this can lead to a reluctance to access support, perhaps because of a misguided belief that it’s only for people who are “really in crisis” or because of concerns about confidentiality or the stigma attached to mental health “issues”.

The “worried well”, people who are stressed and anxious but basically coping, want to learn more about how to continue coping, but lockdowns and the uncertainty of the past couple of years has made things even worse as many people who were at least going outside once a day for their hour of exercise or going for a socially distanced walk with a friend are no longer doing even this because of the length of time they’ve been struggling.

What can employers do?

Employers and managers have a vital role to play when it comes to supporting the mental health and resilience of their teams. This can be done by regularly checking in with their employees to not only talk about work but also to find out how they’re coping. It is useful to ask open ended questions such as:

  • How are you taking care of yourself?
  • How much interaction are you still enjoying with other people?
  • Is anything making you feel overwhelmed?
  • What challenges are you facing?

What should we be looking out for?

A manager should never make assumptions, but signs of mental ill health can include:

  • changes in usual behaviour, mood or how they interact with colleagues
  • changes in the standard of their work or focus on tasks
  • appearing tired or withdrawn with reduced interest in tasks they previously enjoyed
  • changes in appetite and/or increase in smoking and drinking
  • increase in sickness absence and/or turning up late to work

Of course, not everyone who experiences stress or anxiety will exhibit obvious signs. So, it is important for a manager to regularly ask team members how they are and create an environment where staff feel able to be open and honest about this.

This might seem intrusive or feel uncomfortable, because most managers would much rather have a conversation about what needs to be done this week than explore the emotional state of their team. Some may be wary of “opening a can of worms”, yet by shifting the focus on to the person rather than the job, the employee can feel sufficiently supported, listened to and valued so they will actually be more able to work effectively and more likely to perform well. That’s why it’s so important to have regular one-to-ones with your employees where you can ask them simply how they are feeling.

The overall aim is to create a psychologically safe environment (be it on-site or remote), where employees feel secure talking about how they’re coping and the challenges affecting their mental health; for example, feeling sad that they can’t use the gym anymore because exercising was their way of unwinding after work, or that their child’s class has been sent home to isolate, bringing back the pressures of having to juggle work and home schooling.

Managers should make sure they’re fully aware of all the mental health support services locally that they can refer employees to, especially any counselling services with a manager referral scheme, so the manager can suggest they think they’d benefit from talking to a counsellor to offload and learn some coping strategies. We work with a partner organisation who provide a full range of mental health support services – see contact details below.

This sort of proactive approach is particularly important for employees who have just started to sink because once someone starts to feel hopeless or worthless, their ability to reach out for help is greatly reduced. Just one hour spent talking to a counsellor or mental health practitioner can help them to get back inside their personal “window of tolerance” so they feel better able to cope.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at the thought of getting mental health support in the workplace correct, then our trusted partners Greig Melville HR are available to help you. Contact them on 01324 628676 or email hr@greigmelvillehr.co.uk to see how they can solve your HR problems today.