Last updated: 03.10.22

How to look after your Employees' Mental Health

Why is mental health so important?

Mental health is increasingly recognised as being just as important as physical health, but there are still many ways in which we can all do better in terms of helping our friends, family and colleagues with theirs. In this article, we’re going to look at some of the ways in which you can help your employees with their mental health if you’re an employer or manager.

Time off work is one of the biggest knock-on effects of poor mental health, with stress in particular costing thousands of hours of productivity to the UK work force every year. The Mental Health Foundation found that 1 in 6.8 people experience mental health problems in the workplace. Better mental health support in the workplace can save UK businesses up to £8 billion annually.

There’s also general productivity and workplace harmony issues that can arise when employees are facing mental health issues. The charity, Mind reported that more than 1 in 5 (21%) agreed that they had called in sick to avoid work when asked how workplace stress had affected them. The more time employees take off due to stress, the more productivity can be affected, so it’s in your best interests to ensure that you really do have your employees’ wellbeing at the top of your list of priorities.

Let’s look at how you can support your employees with their mental health.

Creating a supportive environment

Many mental health issues are created and impacted by a person’s work, which means that you can take steps to help ensure that these aren’t an issue. If you can create a supportive company culture and give your employees every chance of working with good mental health, then you’ll find that problems don’t crop up as frequently, and you’ll reap all the benefits of a happy, healthy workforce.

Many employees can be scared to tell their manager that they are suffering with a mental health problem, which can spiral into further issues. As an employer it is important to communicate to your workforce that mental health is treated the same as physical health, so being forthcoming with your communication can help people feel safe enough to share.

Some other examples of creating a supportive environment include, ensuring that employees have regular one-to-ones with their managers to encourage a safe place to share their worries, arranging mental health training workshops or encouraging mental health “champions” across the organisation to encourage conversations.

The importance of a good work and life balance

Achieving a good work and life balance is one of the main factors that can have an impact on how happy a person feels, and as an employer you have a great degree of control over this. We have seen how the pandemic has affected work and life balance across the world with hybrid working becoming the norm. Some businesses have even returned to a full-time onsite working pattern which was a huge step for many people whose mental health was affected by multiple lockdowns and restrictions on socialising.

It can be tempting to squeeze all the time out of your employees that you possibly can, but this just isn’t effective in the long run. So, it’s important to change and adapt your workplace policies to reflect a flexible working environment that suits your organisation with your employees in mind. Building a culture where employees feel trusted to meet their objectives without being restricted to their desks is also fundamental in balancing work and home life.

Model healthy behaviours

For managers especially, this can have a profound effect on their team’s positive mental health. Modelling healthy behaviours that prioritises self-care and the ability to set boundaries can have a positive effect on team members but also for managers themselves. Sometimes they can be so focused on their employee’s wellbeing that they often forget about their own. In a world where working from home is normal, managers can share examples of this with their team such as taking a lunch time walk or turning their emails off whilst on holiday. It can encourage employees to also develop healthy positive habits, leading to an improvement in mental health.

Learn to Spot the Signs

It’s not always easy to know whether any of your employees have a problem with their mental health, which means that it’s worth taking the time to understand some of the main signs. Catching something early before it develops into something more significant is very important. Mental health problems that affect the workplace are certainly not always caused by  work, so you might not know there’s anything wrong until you see such a sign.

The best way that you can spot a potential problem is by keeping an eye on your employees and noticing if they have notable changes in behaviour. Some of the most common signs and symptoms include the following:

  • Irritability
  • Lateness and absence
  • Lower productivity
  • Distraction
  • Confusion
  • Low levels of engagement
  • Changes in working patterns
  • Withdrawal from social situations

It’s important to note that someone displaying one of these signs is not necessarily dealing with a mental health issue, but rather that these are potential signs.

Find Solutions

Where you do believe that one or more of your employees is facing mental health difficulties, it really helps for you to find solutions that may help them. Many employers may not realise the effect that they can have by making some small changes.

The most important thing that you can do initially is to sit down and discuss the issue with the individual. Explain the situation from your point of view, and explain that you’ll support them however you can, in a way that suits them and their needs. If the individual is struggling as a result of workplace issues, then you have it in your power to remedy the issue and work towards a solution. If the underlying problems are from outside work, then consider the ways in which you can be flexible that may help the individual. Could you give them a different working pattern? Can you recommend a service that might help them?

There’s rarely a single solution to situations such as this, but always remember that as an employer you often have the power to help. For more information about mental health in the workplace, consider taking the Virtual College Mental Health Awareness Course. We have a range of resources on mental health for employers and employees. Click here to find out more.