This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week runs from 21-27 May and aims to raise awareness of mental health and wellbeing with a particular focus on how doing good and helping others is good for mental health. One in four people will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives yet the stigma surrounding mental ill health prevents many from opening up about their mental health issues and accessing the support that they need.
Of course, everyone has a bad day from time to time. But, could you spot the difference between an employee’s normal response to a pressured few weeks and the symptoms of an underlying mental health issue? It’s very important for line managers/employers to learn to recognise the signs of potential mental health problems in order to minimise any disruption and maintain a happy, healthy workforce.
There is no definitive list of indicators for mental health issues like stress, anxiety or depression as each individual reacts differently. However, it’s worth keeping an eye out for certain tell-tale signs that a person isn’t coping well at work (and getting advice from an occupational health professional on what to do next – the Health for Work Adviceline can help). These warning signs could include:
- uncharacteristic behaviour;
- missed deadlines;
- poor time-keeping or unexpected sick leave for vague illnesses;
- uncooperative or argumentative behaviour;
- angry or violent outbursts;
- lack of interest in colleagues or social withdrawal.
Good people management is certainly a contributor to the prevention of stress in the workplace. Employers who pay attention to the welfare of their staff are more likely to see returns in maintained productivity and good staff retention. Regular one-to-one communication on neutral ground with employees can pave the way for honest, open dialogue and management of issues before they escalate. During these conversations, it’s important for line managers/employers to:
- ensure there are no interruptions;
- remain focused on topics that are directly related to the welfare of the employee;
- ask open questions (e.g. ‘I was wondering how you were doing?’);
- use neutral language (e.g. ‘You seem very low today’);
- always give the employee time to answer questions;
- try to see things from the employee’s perspective;
- make arrangements for a follow-up review;
- always consider confidentiality and agree who (if anybody) might need to be made aware of what you’ve discussed.
Where employees appear to need some support in the workplace, employers should develop a plan in conjunction with employees, including discussion of what adjustments could be made to their role in order to make it easier for them to continue working. Regular reviews will help establish progress and permit any changes to be made to the plan in order to support the person’s recovery. Where necessary, employees should be encouraged to seek external advice (e.g. GP, counselling, etc.). The free Health for Work Adviceline (0800 0 77 88 44) can help employers decide what support to offer.