Blogs 10 October

Working for Change: How Employers can Provide Mental Health Support

On World Mental Health Day, Louise Garrod, HR Business Partner at XenZone discusses ways employers can support their staff.

Earlier this summer, a manager’s response to an employee taking some time off for her mental health went viral. While people love to emotionally invest in tales of unattainable fantasy, there was something more tangible in Ben Congleton’s response that resonated with the public. It expressed warmth and sensitivity where, regrettably, one is more accustomed to suspicion or awkwardness.

It was a stark wake-up call for society that supportive and understanding managers are still a rare breed. So, what can employers do to ensure a positive and proactive approach to handling mental health difficulties in the workplace?

Firstly, employers need to instil a culture where conversations around mental health are welcomed. 67% of employees feel scared, embarrassed or unable to talk about mental health concerns with their employer (Time to Change, 2011). Given that at least one in four people will experience some kind of mental health problem each year, that is a disheartening figure. Why can’t employees be open about their struggles?

They may worry that admitting to feeling anxious or depressed will imply they’re unable to do their job well. They might fear that they’ll be labelled as a “problem” employee and one that a manager would rather not engage with. Worrying about stigmatisation will only compound any negative or anxious thoughts for the individual so this is a cruel and irresponsible position to place employees in.

Therefore, it’s an employer’s responsibility to create an environment where senior management are engaged and line managers are equipped to support employees. They are the ones that will know the individual and, therefore, be able to spot the signs that something isn’t quite right. At that point they should check in with the individual and give them an opportunity to open up. Creating a comfortable environment to talk and showing genuine compassion for their well-being will make that conversation easier. And the sooner that help and support can be offered, the better.

Where an employee is showing resistance to discussing their mental health it’s vital to provide them with feedback that led to your concern. There may be very clear physical or behavioural changes that can be discussed, for example a deterioration in their appearance or becoming withdrawn from their colleagues.

It could also be an emotional or cognitive difference that’s alarming, like an uncharacteristic loss in confidence or an inability to concentrate. Coupling that with practical suggestions that might help them will underline your commitment to their well-being. Maybe they just need some guidance and support. Perhaps they need some flexible working arrangements for a short period of time. Or it’s possible they’re in need of some outside help that you can signpost them to.

Framing the above within an organisational structure that recognises communication is critical, is prepared to make workplace/pattern adjustments to assist employees and has a benefits package that doesn’t place an undue financial burden on employees needing time off, will protect the individual and the employer.

In summary:
1. Put mental health on the business agenda
2. Remove the stigma
3. Employ prevention strategies
4. Recognise the signs and intervene
5. Support staff (including managers)

Louse Garrod

HR Business Partner, XenZone