Would you know if an employee was struggling with poor mental health? Do you know the signs to look out for when colleagues are finding things difficult? According to Mind, the mental health charity, around one in four people in the UK experience a mental health problem each year.
This figure is echoed in the number of employees that continue to work even though they’re struggling with poor mental health. In 2018, these employees spent an average of 12.1 days at work despite how they were secretly feeling – that’s almost two weeks where they felt they had to get on with things.
As an employer, do you know if anyone in your organisation has been working regardless of their mental health issues? If you’re unsure of how to address mental health at work, here’s a look at the steps to take if someone is finding things tough.
What are my legal responsibilities?
When it comes to how you address mental wellbeing in the workplace, it’s important to understand your legal responsibilities. Knowing the law can help to protect employees and help you provide the tools they need to work through their issues.
The law states that most people with mental health problems fit the definition of having a disability as outlined in the Equality Act (2010) and the Disability Discrimination Act (1995). With this in mind, your employees who have mental health problems are protected from harassment and discrimination.
What this means
These laws mean you’re responsible for making sure that employees with mental health issues are treated equally. They should be able to conduct their daily responsibilities without worrying that they’ll be singled out or treated differently because they’re suffering with mental health problems.
They’re also entitled to reasonable adjustments to adapt to their job. Therefore, you will have to take their needs into account and make some changes to ensure they feel comfortable.
While they are protected by the law, just 47% of UK workers feel they can be honest with their line manager about their mental health. And when 26% would rather lie than be open, it shows how important it is to create a dialogue in the workplace.
It can be hard to keep track of a large workforce, especially when you oversee employees at different levels across a range of departments. However, by introducing a positive attitude towards mental health and encouraging conversation around how colleagues are feeling, you can help people on an individual level and boost productivity.
This could also potentially help retain key members of staff who might otherwise want to leave due to the problems they’re experiencing.
Who it affects
Mental health issues can affect anyone, at any stage in their life. It doesn’t discriminate across age, gender, or job level. It doesn’t matter what industry you work in or which part of the country you’re from.
How can work trigger mental health problems?
Some mental health problems are linked to or triggered by work, and there are types of mental health issues that are more common in certain industries and sectors. It’s worth being aware of this when addressing mental health and gauging if your company fits or bucks the trend.
Stress levels, for instance, are at their highest among those in recruitment, HR and creative arts and design. Here, 67% are affected by stress. Half of those working in the environment and agriculture sector, meanwhile, are affected by loneliness.
Understanding how the type of work your employees do can affect their mental health is a great starting point. From there you can provide assistance to them.
The impact of job roles
In addition to understanding that certain types of work can be more stressful or lonely than others, the level we work at can also play a part in employee wellbeing.
From those who have a lot of responsibility having to keep their anxiety and anger levels in check, to entry level workers who are struggling under the pressure of trying to make an impression at work, mental health issues are wide-reaching and go all the way to the top.
In fact, senior directors took over four working weeks off work last year (21.5 days) due to poor mental health . This suggests that high-pressure positions, whatever they are, can have a negative impact on our wellbeing.
Signs employees may have mental health issues
Managing the mental wellbeing of employees and colleagues at all levels starts with knowing what signs to look out for. By understanding the behaviours that indicate that team members are struggling, you can help introduce strategies to prevent their mental health problems from becoming something more serious.
These signs aren’t always obvious and it’s crucial that you don’t make assumptions. What looks like stress could be intertwined with hidden depression or anxiety. Therefore, it’s important to be aware of the hidden signs as well as the more obvious indicators and knowing how to act when you think an employee is finding things hard.
It can be easy to assume that an employee has a bad work ethic when there’s something more serious taking place. Here are some ways this can be the case:
They’re acting out of character
Perhaps there are some significant changes in their behaviour, or their mood has altered. If they appear to be more easily angered or irritated, this could mean they’re struggling with anxiety or stress, especially if they’re usually calmer and laidback.
While it may be standard procedure to issue employees with disciplinary action if they’re continually absent from work, it’s worth finding out why. Team members could be dealing with depression or suffering anxiety, causing them to sleep badly or not want to leave the safety of their home. Finding out the cause and offering support can be the key to helping them move forward and prevent them from losing their job.
They’re behaving dangerously
If a colleague who has always played by the rules suddenly starts to behave dangerously, it could be a sign of something more serious. Behaving dangerously covers a broad range of things and spans everything from risk-taking and impulsive decision-making to genuinely dangerous actions, such as not properly following procedure in a warehouse, for example.
If you think this applies to an employee in any of the departments and across any level, you may find that they are showing the early signs of a serious disorder. Some illnesses that are associated with increased risk taking include borderline personality disorder, bipolar and schizophrenia.
Should you suspect this could be the case, they’ll need professional help. Mind offers some useful guidance on this.
As well as behaving differently, there are some psychological signposts to look out for:
They seem tired
There are lots of reasons why an employee could be tired. Perhaps they have a new baby or they’re looking after an ill relative. However, if there doesn’t appear to be an obvious reason for their tiredness or they seem anxious, become withdrawn, or seem uninterested in work they once enjoyed, there might be more going on.
Their standard of work has slipped
If an employee isn’t performing as well as they once were and they appear to be distracted or forgetful at work, this could indicate that a trauma has taken place, or they are battling with stress.
An employee could be crying because they’ve had some bad news or they’re experiencing difficulties at home. If they’re noticeably sad or they’re tearful a lot of the time, there could be some underlying mental health issues there.
Removing the Stigma
Once you know that team members are dealing with mental health concerns, knowing what you can do to help can have a positive impact on both them and the work they do. For the areas where you can introduce plans and strategies, you’ll find that you can create something that can be used across the company.
Here are some of the ways you can help employees:
Introduce an action plan
There are several ways to roll out an action plan. For example, you could introduce flexible working so that those who may be finding things difficult can work from home or come in at times that help them.
You can train team leads so that they can spot symptoms, address the issues and provide the relevant support. As someone who oversees numerous departments, this is an especially beneficial plan that means employees across the company are accounted for and can have access to the same levels of support.
Open a dialogue
As well as providing an inclusive, safe environment for colleagues to open up about their experiences, knowing how to handle situations that may be uncomfortable for an employee who is struggling can make all the difference.
Speaking to them in a quiet, private space, for example, can immediately create a more comfortable environment for them. Use the time to talk about your concerns, but being a good listener here is most important. By listening to what they have to say, you can help find a solution.
However, don’t feel like you must have all the answers. You’re not a medical professional. Make sure that you seek advice on how to proceed and arrange another catch up with them so that they don’t feel forgotten about.
Seek professional help
Where there are concerns that may require professional help, it’s important to act upon this by working collaboratively with the employee to encourage them to seek help.
Links between financial wellbeing and mental health
Financial concerns can have a huge effect on our mental wellbeing. Employees who are experiencing money worries are 3.8 times more likely to suffer from anxiety and panic attacks and they’re 4.9 times more likely to suffer with depression.
With such huge numbers of employees finding their finances to be their greatest source of stress and sadness, it’s essential that there are ways to help team members who are secretly struggling with money worries and the mental health concerns that are triggered by them.
Salary Finance can help your business provide strategies and benefits to support employees with tips and tools to help them to move forward, as well as benefits that allow them to make meaningful changes to their financial situation.
If you’re interested in understanding more about helping your team improve their mental health and financial wellbeing, find out how we can help you gain the tools you need to help your team overcome their problems.