Are you talking about mental health at work?

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Do your staff feel able to talk to you if they're worried about their mental health? And if so, do you know how to help them?

These two questions are becoming increasingly important in the workplace. In August 2016, research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) showed that more people are experiencing mental health issues while in work.

When 2,000 UK employees were polled five years ago, the percentage of employees who’d experienced a mental health problem at some point during their working life was a quarter. Now, it’s climbed to one third.

For example, this could be anxiety and depression caused by something that’s happened outside of work, or prolonged exposure to unmanageable stress caused by work itself, including an unmanageable workload, lack of work-life balance and inability to switch off at home.

Sadly, many suffer in silence often because of the stigma involved around mental health and the belief it will be perceived as a ‘weakness’ that prevents them doing their job properly.

Feeling up to a conversation

The CIPD survey showed that only 44% of staff felt comfortable talking to their manager about their struggles in the first place. And when they did pluck up the courage, over half felt their boss wasn’t giving them the help they needed.

Employers have a legal duty to make sure employees have a safe working environment, and must assess any risks that arise from hazards at work, including work-related mental health problems.

It’s worth remembering that from a business point of view, poor mental health is the number one reason for long-term absence from work and can cost employers significantly.

There are lots of options, like counselling and occupational health services either within the company or from mental health groups and charities. Yet without the right training or guidance it can be hard to know how best to help.

Tellingly, only one in five managers routinely receives training in how to manage and support people with mental health problems at work.

Taking preventative measures

Of course, it’s important that managers know how to help employees in crisis. But being able to foster and promote good mental health at work is also key.

The CIPD recommends that businesses aim to create a culture of openness and encourage staff to have conversations about any issues around mental health.

From senior management being honest about any problems they’ve had themselves, to stressing to new employees that no problem is too big, small or personal for them to raise - organisations need to do more to make these kind of conversations normal and prevent problems when they can.

The more open your staff feel they can be around mental health - whether they’re going through issues themselves or not - the stronger, more engaged and productive your workforce will be as a whole.

Get more information

You can download a CIPD Mental Health in the Workplace factsheet here.

The mental health charity MIND has free resources on taking care of staff’s mental health in the workplace. Find them here.