How Important Is Mental Health In The Workplace And What Are The Signs Of A Colleague Struggling?
It’s Mental Illness Awareness Week this week. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate and will affect more people than you realise such as your manager, your friend of five years or even you, so it’s definitely something we should be talking about.
It’s no secret that there’s still a stigma around mental illness that doesn’t transfer across to physical illness. If a colleague had been off from work with a broken leg, you’d ask them how they were doing as soon as they stepped back in the office. So why not mental illness?
Perhaps it’s the fact that you can’t see the difficulties that they’re going through which may make it tricky and awkward to understand or empathise with them. But that shouldn’t make it any less of a talking topic within your workplace.
Firstly, what should your employees understand about mental health?
Ann Wiggins, HR Advisor for ELAS, highlights the importance of a balanced, healthy mindset in the workplace:
“We should think of our mental health in the same way we do our physical health. We would take time off from work to recover from a physical illness or injury to enable us to come back to work ‘fighting fit’, it therefore stands to reason that we would do the same if we need to recoup from a mental illness or injury. After all it is no great secret that when we are enjoying good mental health, that we feel a sense of purpose, we have energy to do things, can face challenges more easily and bring 100% of ourselves to work.”
In a study conducted by the UK mental health charity, MIND,
14 per cent agreed that they had resigned and 42 per cent had considered resigning when asked how workplace stress had affected them. The study also demonstrated that 56 per cent of employers said they would like to do more to improve staff wellbeing but don’t feel they have the right training or guidance. Without the right training or guidance, it might be difficult to spot when a colleague is suffering in silence.
ELAS Occupational Health Advisor, June Mckenna, details some of the tell-tale signs that an employee is going through a tough time. As an employer, it’s worth keeping an eye out for any unusual behaviour your employees may exhibit, such as the below:
-Employee’s isolating themselves and not wanting to interact with colleagues. -Employee’s avoiding eye to eye contact -Employee’s moving more slower or faster than normal -Employee’s becoming more confrontational and argumentative -Any changes in an employee’s facial expression or demeanor -Employee’s eating either too much food or too little food and visiting the toilet immediately after eating -Employee’s becoming tearful at work -Employee’s arriving at work late and looking tired -Any unexplained changes in an employees behaviour at work. Here at ELAS we also offer a range of services and training courses to help support staff and colleagues with mental illness. We can offer Counsellors, Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Specialist mental health assessments and Autism assessments to help ensure your employees are back to their comfortable working self as quickly as possible.” Fear of discrimination and feelings of shame are among the top reasons people give for not telling their colleagues about their mental health problems. When we create workplace cultures where people can be themselves, it is easier for people to speak about mental health concerns without fear, and easier for them to reach out for help when they need it.
Even so, the decision to disclose distress at work is not one people take lightly. It is vital that workplaces become environments where people feel safe to be themselves.
Most people with ongoing mental health problems meet the definition of disability in the
Equality Act (2010) and the Disability Discrimination Act (1995, as amended). This means that people with mental health problems are protected from discrimination and harassment and are entitled to reasonable adjustments to adapt their job or work.
So what can employee’s do to help feel more accommodated in the workplace if they’re suffering from a mental illness? Employees don’t want to feel discriminated against if they’ve got a mental disability, the same way employees with a physical disability wouldn’t want to feel discriminated against.
A disabled person is entitled to ask for reasonable adjustments to their job or workplace to accommodate their disability. An adjustment is intended to level the playing field by removing a barrier to the job that is provided by the effect of their mental health problem.
A few examples of reasonable adjustments might be:
-Changing a person’s working pattern to enable them to start later or finish earlier because of the side effects of medication, or allowing them to travel the night before meetings and stay over to avoid early morning travel -Providing a person with a laptop, remote access software and permission to work at home on set days, or flexibly according to the severity of their symptoms (within a monthly limit) -Excusing someone from attending work functions and client events involving food, instead allowing them to set up alternative networking arrangements that achieve similar business returns
If you feel like you need to speak to a colleague or a manager, reach out. Sometime’s people don’t need you to fix the problem or issue, they just need to share it with somebody and get it off their chest. Likewise, if you feel that you may need the support of the company to accommodate your mental illness or disability, get in touch with your HR department or line manager.
If you’re an employer and would like more information on supporting your staff and workforce, please feel free to contact our team on 08450 50 40 60.