The world is a tough place right now. With the news filled with conflict and the cost of living crisis, it’s no wonder people are suffering at the moment. That’s before we think about the holiday season and the difficult emotions that can bring.
The reality is that 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem every year in England. When you think of that in terms of your workforce, that’s a huge percentage. As an employer, you need to be doing your bit, playing your part and showing up and supporting your people.
Mental health in the workplace
The truth is that the past few years have been tough for a lot of people. And life right now isn’t getting any easier. If you want your employees to give their all for you, you need to help make sure they’re supported to do that.
On paper the Equality Act 2010 offers protection for many mental illnesses, stipulating that employers have a duty of care to support and make reasonable adjustments for those individuals.
The reality is that those suffering, or those who are going through a challenging period might not fall under the Equality Act, or may be too hesitant to put their hand up and ask for help.
Yes a supportive employer needs to meet their full legislative requirements, but a truly supportive employer needs to go beyond that. They need to create a supportive environment which champions mental wellbeing for everyone, and creates an environment that puts practices in place to help every single employee, regardless of a diagnosis.
Frameworks exist such as the Mental Health at Work Commitment, which demonstrates an employer’s commitment and willingness to support mental health. But these sort of initiatives are only the start.
For employers that are serious about supporting employees' mental wellbeing during tough times it’s critical that it’s woven into the fabric of the business, that it goes beyond a certificate on a wall. Not only do employees need to feel supported, but they need the business to walk the walk every single day.
Ways to support your employees' mental wellbeing
It takes time to grow a supportive culture, but there are things that you can start doing to lay the foundation and to show employees that you really care about them and their mental wellbeing.
There are so many misconceptions about mental health and wellbeing out there. Any employer looking to offer more support needs to start with a strong foundation of educating management and employees about how to spot early warning signs, ways to support and create a dialogue around mental wellbeing but also how to take responsibility for yourself.
Building awareness of the support available is also key to a healthy uptake. If people don’t know what’s on offer or how to access any specialised help then they aren’t going to use it.
For an employee to feel supported there has to be good communication that allows them to talk freely about their challenges, their worries and their mental health. But that communication has to be started by management.
Checking in with genuine concern and interest at every 1-1. Sharing their feelings back. Taking an interest in the whole employee, not just their work life, are all ways that communication can be used to put employees at ease and encourage them to open up.
Leadership styles are changing. There’s a shift away from the divide between employees and managers and a shift towards being seen as equals. In terms of supporting employees that’s a great thing. Employees don’t want to open up to someone who might use that knowledge against them, or they only interact with once a month in a 1-1.
Because to create a truly supportive workplace, employees need to see leaders modelling the behaviour. Leaving early, admitting they’re having a bad day, taking time off. All those, seemingly quite small, actions have a big impact on those around them.
When they see their manager doing those things it makes them feel they can do them too, and suddenly the stigma has been removed.
How often do we evaluate someone’s capacity vs their workload? Usually only when it’s flagged that they’re struggling.
As employers we need to take responsibility for how much work we’re allocating someone and the expectation of when it needs to be completed. If we are vigilant about that it’s easy for an employee to feel stressed and worried about their workload.
Using regular check-ins, employers should be asking about capacity, concerns, bottlenecks and how they can help. That’s not to say they should be doing the work, but maybe they can help prioritise, or to speed something up.
Making that employee feel supported and empowered by their manager, rather than dumped on.
With some effort
Our workplace needs to be a psychologically safe place. Only then will employees feel like they belong, like they can open up and that they’re supported. Focusing on building a workplace that welcomes all and that celebrates all is a really important step, albeit one with a slightly longer timeframe.
Flexible working has come a long way in the past few years, but there’s still a way to go when it comes to understanding the full benefits it can bring. There's evidence that flexible working arrangements have a positive impact on mental health. And it’s one tactic employers can use when it comes to reasonable adjustments.
But flexible working shouldn’t just be used after the fact. Embedding flexible working within the business culture, can help employees feel more supported, emotionally engaged and empowered, helping to protect mental wellbeing.
There’s only so much you can do as an employer. But there are schemes, or benefits you can put in place so if a situation does reach that point you’re able to signpost employees to specialist help.
Bringing in employee benefits to support mental wellbeing, whether that’s gym membership, in house yoga sessions, access to counselling or therapy, or private healthcare, can demonstrate a long term level of support to your employees.
Showing that you recognise your responsibilities but also your limits, but despite that you want to do as much as possible to take care of your employees overall wellbeing.
We can all use a little help.
As an employer it’s our responsibility to make sure that we’re doing as much as we can for our employees, in particular their mental wellbeing. The world isn’t going to suddenly get easier, we’re all carrying some emotional baggage and for some they need help with the load.
But supporting your employees isn’t about treating them like children, or taking away their worries. It’s about making them realise that the place they spend the majority of their awake hours, cares about them, is there for them and is rooting for them.
By looking at the short term and the behaviour of your leadership team and building in workload and emotional check-ins to any catch ups, you can start to create a supportive culture. Then in the longer term you can start to put bigger programmes and vehicles of support in place.
It takes time to make a change, but if you start now, you’ll be one step closer.
Being a supportive employer goes beyond offering free tea and coffee. It’s about taking an interest in what’s happening in your employees' lives an...Read more