How important do you think mental health wellbeing is in your workplace?
Well given the large number of attendees at a recent forum, it seems very!
I had an amazing morning as part of a panel of speakers talking about mental health in the workplace. I could have discussed it all day, and the attendees were fantastic.
In preparation for the event we were each given a few questions to reflect on, before the forum, allowing for a couple of minutes per speaker for each question. I am sharing the thoughts I had noted in response, to continue the theme or discussion and awareness. I would love to hear about your thoughts and views on mental health wellbeing in the workplace.
So here we go…
Are some groups more susceptible to mental health problems than others? For example high achievers, …those workers at a stressful phase of the business cycle (eg mergers, redundancies) or the self-employed?
High achievers / Self-employed
In looking at high achievers and/or self-employed individuals, my experience has been that they often:
- seek high pressured environments – they thrive on it – ‘ask a busy person mindset’
- deal with competing interests, make difficult decisions or decisions with far reaching consequences
- have poor work-life balances, often working evenings, weekends and holidays
- find it difficult to ‘switch off’, or can’t relax (many struggle to even know how)
- experience a negative impact on their relationships with friends (lose support networks) or family (relationship breakdowns)
- are isolated (physically or because of their role), and without peer support or a mentor
- are unaware of their mindset around the choices they are making, or the areas that cause them the greatest personal stress
- ignore the signs of their mental health changing, until it is too late (physical or mental illness)
- don’t realise that they can’t do it all, because in the past they always have!
Business cycles (eg mergers redundancies)
With any of these it helps to consider:
- how to manage change
- how change can create additional stress due to lack of control and uncertainty, especially where there are repeated rounds of redundancies, restructuring, mergers
- where it may have become formulaic and procedural, forgetting what it means to the person and its impact (including mental resilience or mental health)
What constitutes good practices for employers in this area
In trying to answer this question within the allocated time I came up with what I thought were 3 key areas:
Cultural considerations for me included:
- putting into place a policy, and/or having enthusiastic people at lower management levels is rarely enough. With workplace culture, it should genuinely be led from the top (including awareness, working hours, workloads, incentives, openness, acceptance and support)
- line managers need to be given time to get to know their people, including 1-1’s being opportunities for real conversations, not just about hitting targets
- workplace processes being used for the positive such as:
- performance management being genuinely about getting people back on track, rather than managed out
- disciplinary action being used appropriately
- if staff and managers have time to get to know each other, the signs of mental health changes are more readily spotted, and the best course of action chosen. Businesses will want to avoid a situation where something (internal or external) causes a change to mental health, and then rather than exploring it and creating positive change, it ends up in an ill-fitted process. Often putting unhelpful pressure on the individual, which further impacts on their ability to perform, causing more issues around performance or behaviour, and leads to a vicious circle. It can lead to unnecessary absences, dismissals, and exacerbate or cause serious mental health issues.
Training, on an ongoing basis, in the areas I felt most important included:
- conflict management
- change management
- handling difficult conversations
- coaching skills (including open questions and listening)
- mental health and wellbeing training
- along with awareness days
I added, as an addition, remove managers, who after training still don’t get it, (and indeed any employees with unacceptable behaviour). Line managers have the power to support, encourage, empower, develop confidence, and ensure people feel heard. They can prevent a short-term situation (whether arising from an internal or external matter) turning into something more serious. Likewise, line managers (and businesses) can be the cause of significant mental harm. The lifelong impact they can have on individuals ought not to be easily dismissed.
[I want to add that many businesses are aware of managers and employees with unacceptable behaviour, and make choices to retain them. Once that becomes obvious (often by their action or inaction, rather than stating so outright), staff need to consider if they want to remain despite this.]
Communication can be improved by:
- listening to what the employee needs, conversely also talk and engage more
- keep in contact during absences. Ensure support and genuine conversation. Longer absences have been shown as increasing the likelihood of individuals never returning to work.
- avoid presuming what reasonable adjustments might be useful. Discuss and listen to experts, whilst also considering the individual’s views.
- talk to them as human beings. Employment law and disability discrimination can sometimes be complex, and of course, you can encounter difficult situations where individuals will not accept anything you say or do as being enough. They don’t represent everyone or every situation, A good starting point is to think how you would want to be treated, and go with that.
What is the panel’s view on stigma and mental health and people’s reluctance to disclose to employers due to fear of discrimination (despite legislation)?
What I have read, or heard about includes:
- their own perception, or feeling ashamed, or view that it can be overcome with willpower or self-discipline
- being labelled by their ‘illness’ or (perhaps misunderstood) diagnosis. A better focus is on the impact for that individual, at that time. Think of a fractured bone in the leg. The severity of it, the impact on their day to day activities, and healing time, vary from person to person. How much time they need off, physio or mediation needs, will differ. They may continue to have difficulties yet develop unseen coping mechanisms, perhaps it will hurt in damp weather, or they will end up using a walking stick. Alternatively, they may fully recover.
- a perception (or they have seen it happen) that it will be used against them or to manage them out, rather than a way to support them
- employers often see medical notes of ‘work related stress’ as an accusation, and management may switch into defensive or litigation mode
- asking for help or flexibility might be associated with slacking, or having to share too much information to justify the need for the extra time. Does the businesses take little notice of someone regularly working long hours, but if they are fifteen minutes late or need time for an personal appointment, it is highlighted as an issue?
- what happens next? They simply don’t know what the reaction, response or what a reasonable process might be. Occupational health can be looked at with suspicion. Will their privacy be protected? Will they stay in control of decisions made about them?
It was wonderful to see so many businesses in the room. There is a greater awareness and desire to talk about mental health. For other tips and resources, shared by Alliotts, myself and the panel, at this event, please take a look at this article by Rebecca Trudgett of Alliotts.
Employees are looking for healthier work life balances, and healthier working environments – as are their line managers!
There is a growing desire for business strategy to take into account mental health wellbeing. Not least for productivity, reducing absenteeism or presenteeism, client/customer satisfaction, and staff retention. Hopefully more so, in that we are all humans, life is short and we spend most of our week at work.
Ready to have more time in your life? Make a change? Feel in control at work? Book your free VIP Discovery Session.
Simona is an executive coach, mentor and speaker. You can read more about her professional background here.
She takes her professional coach and business expertise, into other organisations, to drive profitability, communication and performance, to the next level.
Motivated individuals work with Simona on mindset and strategy to become more successful in their careers or business, whilst creating and leading a fulfilled and balanced life.
To find out more about coaching or to book her for your organisation, please email her on firstname.lastname@example.org or contact her here.