Mark Lyttleton is a investment angel, business mentor and speaker who helps founders to cope with the stresses involved in starting, running and growing a business. This article will look at mental health issues in the workplace, exploring strategies for employers to support staff experiencing mental health problems and promote a positive work environment.
Mental illness is a growing problem in workplaces around the world today, increasingly affecting workplace wellbeing and productivity. According to data from the Mental Health Foundation, more than 14% of workers experience mental problems in the workplace, leaving many struggling to cope.
Evidence suggests that a staggering 12.7% of all sickness absences in the UK are attributable to mental health problems. According to the Mental Health Foundation, better workplace frameworks for people experiencing mental health problems could save UK businesses up to £8 billion a year.
Mental health is integral to global development. Depression is a leading cause of disability today. People with mental health problems can die up to two decades earlier than they should due to preventable physical conditions triggered by mental illness. Alarmingly, suicide is the leading cause of death among 15 to 29-year-olds today, according to data from the World Health Organization.
Although there has been progress in many countries, mental health conditions often attract discrimination, stigma and human rights violations. Despite the fact that many mental health problems can be treated effectively at relatively low cost, treatment coverage remains extremely low.
Good management and good mental health at work go hand-in-hand, with strong evidence correlating with high levels of mental wellbeing among employees with high performance. According to the Mental Health Foundation, addressing staff wellbeing can help to boost productivity by as much as 12%.
With employees spending a significant portion of their working day in the workplace, relying on their job for income and as a source of social contact, workplace satisfaction and fulfilling employment are an important component of mental health and general wellbeing.
Many people who experience mental health problems try to hide their issues through fear of the reaction of others. Feelings of shame and fear of discrimination are common reasons why employees are reluctant to discuss their mental health problems.
Building a workplace culture where people feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work is integral to creating an environment that is conducive to speaking about mental health concerns without fear and making it easier for employees to ask for help if they need it.
In terms of supporting staff, it all starts with asking them how they are in a warm and authentic way. Of course, there is a time and place for everything, particularly when it comes to a sensitive subject like mental health. Employers need to work around staff, selecting a time and place that is most comfortable for the employee.
It is important for managers to actively listen to staff, asking direct but appropriate questions without probing for more information than that person is willing to give. It can be difficult and upsetting to hear about other people’s problems, but it is important to reassure and encourage the staff member to open up without being judgemental or acting surprised. While it may be tempting to volunteer potential solutions to their problem, it is often more productive to simply ask the person what they want to happen. While they may welcome suggestions, they may simply need to vent their frustrations without taking action.
A recent survey revealed that 20% of respondents had attended work while experiencing suicidal thoughts at some point in their lives. Where a colleague is concerned that a staff member is having thoughts of suicide, the best thing they can do is to ask directly, without using euphemisms. Staff members concerned about a colleague could help them to contact their doctor or the Samaritans – or, if the colleague is in immediate danger, take them to an A&E Department or call 999 and ask for the police.
For some, a mental health problem is a one-off issue triggered by specific events, while for others it may have no obvious cause at all. It is vital for employers to provide the right support, helping employees to stay well and find ways to recover while providing a pleasant working environment that is free from discrimination.