Supporting employees with mental health issues

Helping their employees work through mental health issues has become much more of a priority for businesses, as further understanding of the issues come to light.

Some of the uncertainty, stigma and awkwardness has been eliminated from the workplace environment, as employers and their staff work together to find positive solutions.

How effective is your mental health approach?

However, recent research from Bupa suggests that employers think these strategies are more successful than their employees do: 80% of bosses say that they have put effective measures in place to tackle mental health issues, while only 30% of their workforce say the same.

What’s more, many leaders admit that while they are actively tackling issues associated with mental health in their business, major problems still exist.

For instance, 94% admit that mental health prejudice is still occurring within their company.

Treating everyone equally

Having mental health issues in the workplace can sometimes cause employers and employees alike to treat those affected differently, as they’re not really sure how to react.

Of the respondents to Bupa’s survey, 47% said that they were guilty of “treading on eggshells” around employees who have experienced a mental health condition, while 22% said that they avoid talking to them altogether.

What’s more, 27% of employers believe that any workers with mental health illnesses will be unable to return to full productivity. Of course, each case is different, and you shouldn’t have any preconceptions about what may or may not happen in the future.

How do employees feel?

When it comes to those employees affected with mental health issues, 20% say that they have been put under pressure to resign, while 51% believe that their condition means that they are less likely to be promoted.

What you can do to help

The good news is that 76% of business leaders know that creating a mentally healthy workforce makes good business sense.

According to The Mental Health: We’re Ready to Talk report, half a working day per UK worker is lost each year to mental illness. Over 15 million working days were lost to mental illness in 2013, up from 11.8 million in 2010, at a cost to the UK economy of £70 billion.

A very good start is for you to talk to your employees about any potential mental health issues they may have at an early stage. This simple strategy can help your business deal with mental illness and help both you and your employee find solutions.

It can be hard to know where to start, but something simple like: “are you OK?”, “is there anything I can do to help?” or “would you like to talk to someone?” can get straight to the point. Remember, these conversations may be very personal, so sensitivity and confidentiality is paramount.

Asking someone else to step in

You don’t have to deal with the issues yourself; if you or your employee prefers, you can refer any health concerns to a GP or occupational health provider if necessary.

Mental health risk assessments

Recent research, from the CBI / Pfizer Absence and Workplace Health Survey, has found that 50% of businesses now conduct regular risk assessments for stress or other workplace causes of mental health problems.

You could consider carrying out a risk assessment as a proactive approach to dealing with stress in your company, taking into account:

  • Your business culture and how you approach work-related stress
  • The demands of the different roles in your business, including workload
  • How much say a person can have in what they do
  • Relationships with others (including bullying and harassment)
  • How changes in the business are communicated
  • Roles within the business and how employees interpret their duties
  • Support, training and factors unique to the individual.

The point of the assessment is to highlight any issues and agree simple actions that either you or your employee can take to deal with issues early, before they escalate.

For more advice and information on policies and people, go to Sage HR advice.

Samantha Bell

Samantha Bell

HR Consultant

Samantha is a HR consultant, specialising in giving HR advice to small businesses in the UK.