Wednesday 10th October 2018 officially marks World Mental Health Day, a day which places significant emphasis on raising the awareness of mental health amongst government bodies, employers and the general public. By now most employers will be aware of the issues mental ill health can cause in the workplace, however fewer are aware of how to prevent this from occurring.
An important first step would be to create a workplace policy in this area and ensure this is made available to staff. This allows employers to outline their approach towards mental health and their commitment to supporting staff by making reasonable adjustments to the working environment where necessary. With this being said, simply having a policy will not be enough and the employer must actually follow through with commitments made in the policy itself.
Line managers are in a unique situation given they often work closely with a team of individuals and as such are able to gain an insight into their personal wellbeing. This means they are ideally placed to spot the early signs of mental ill health, such as decreased performance levels and mood swings, and should be trained in how to do so. It is also important that line managers remain visible and approachable, setting time aside to talk to their employees if approached regarding any mental health concerns.
Another way to tackle mental ill health at work is to ensure that there is a sufficient support network in place for staff. Common examples see employers instil designated mental health first aiders or provide access to complimentary employee assistance programmes (EAPs), both of which offer staff the opportunity to disclose any ongoing issues and receive expert help. Another aspect of maintaining a support network involves making conscious efforts to keep morale high. This can range from arranging workplace social events to simply holding informal feedback meetings with staff to let them know how they are performing. Despite often being overlooked, these efforts can help staff feel more confident and happier in the working environment, thereby preventing the development of conditions such as depression and anxiety.
In a similar vein, it is important to educate staff on any lifestyle changes that could help address mental ill health. Many employers choose to use posters or emails to do this, making staff aware of the benefits of things such as sleep, nutrition and regular exercise. Certain employers may even have ability to offer free fruit or discount gym memberships to staff in order to facilitate a healthier lifestyle, further guarding against the development of mental health issues.
Many employers fear that tackling mental health at work can be an expensive and time consuming procedure, whereas this is in fact far from the truth. Instead there are a number of simple and cost-effective methods that employers can use to protect their staff from mental ill health, with the key being to take a committed and multifaceted approach to the situation.