Championing Mental Health Awareness in the Workplace

September 15, 2021

Supporting individuals in the workplace with mental health concerns is especially key in these post-pandemic times. It's widely recognised that organisations have a ‘duty of care’ and HR News’s article highlights where today’s employers can be ahead of the game in providing support.

‘Mental health is a hot topic right now, and for good reason. It’s something we all have and struggle with to different degrees. When we have good mental health, we tend to feel a sense of purpose and direction in our lives. We feel positive and motivated, happy and healthy. But when we have bad mental health, simply getting out of bed can feel like a struggle. The experience of mental health is different for everyone and getting the right support is extremely important.

According to the Mental Health Commission in Canada, 70% of Canadian employees are concerned about the psychological health and safety of their workplace, and 14% don’t think theirs is healthy or safe at all. With most adults spending the majority of their waking hours at work, addressing mental health in the workplace is absolutely essential.

Signs of Mental Health Problems in Employees

Mental health problems differ from person to person and can have a lot of different signs and symptoms. As a HR Manager, part of your job responsibility is being on the lookout for employees who might be struggling. But if mental health symptoms vary from person to person, how can you tell who’s struggling and who’s just having a bad day?

A few signs of mental health problems in employees include:

• Looking tired or drained

• Isolating themselves and avoiding other colleagues

• Appearing distracted on a regular basis

• Procrastinating a lot

• Becoming chaotic (intruding in conversions and taking on too much)

These are just some of the signs to be aware of. All or some of these may exhibit themselves in employees who are struggling with mental health symptoms. And being aware of this helps ensure you are on the front foot to provide support in the following ways.

1. Make Reasonable Adjustments

Just like a disabled person is entitled to ask for reasonable adjustments to be made to their working environment or their job to accommodate their disability, those struggling with mental health should be allowed the same.

A couple of reasonable adjustments to support employees struggling with mental health at work include:

• Changing a person’s working pattern, allowing them to start later or finish earlier if needed.

• Providing opportunities for remote working and persona to work at home on set days to help manage the severity of their symptoms.

• Offering flexible working arrangements for employees who are receiving mental health treatment.

• Excusing someone from attending client meetings or events and other work functions to avoid any anxiety around social interactions.

According to Centres for Health and Healing, “Being successful is not synonymous with being exhausted or burned out – it’s quite the opposite – fulfilment and happiness is the ultimate goal that leads to long-term success”. Being willing to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace to support people struggling with mental health helps those individuals feel safe and supported. What’s more, it empowers them to do their job better.

2. Provide a Safe Space to Talk

Sometimes, we all just need someone to talk to. Struggling with mental health while at work can feel very isolating and often, employees don’t know who they can talk to. By providing a safe space to talk, you can help alert employees that there is support available, should they need it.

And if they don’t feel comfortable talking about their feelings at work with people they know, external services that can offer anonymous mental health support should be made available.

Providing a safe space to talk is a great way to help employees feel supported at work and this means that problems are less likely to build up. Communicating openly in this way helps ensure employees have less time off work due to mental health-related instances and enjoy improved morale in the workplace.

3. Introduce Regular Breaks

Mental health can make it hard to focus. It’s easy to lose your train of thought, lack clarity, or get distracted by things around you. Productivity happens when you can focus and, often, taking regular breaks helps with this.

Introduce regular breaks within the workplace and let employees know they are welcome to take five-minute breaks when they feel it’s needed. This could be a five-minute break from the computer or just a stroll around the office at regular intervals. Sometimes, even a few minutes can help people de-stress and get some much-needed space.

As part of taking regular breaks, it is also important to encourage staff to take time off. Sometimes, a few days of extra sleep is all it takes to reset and come back feeling refreshed. Consistently overworking and burning out isn’t something that should be celebrated. Rather, employees that manage a good work-life balance and take regular breaks should be championed for taking care of their mental health.

4. Managing Absences and Return to Work

Often, if an employee has a mental health-related absence, the longer they spend off work, the less likely they are to return to the office. So, making contact early on can be extremely helpful and make it easier for said employee to return.

Early contact also offers the opportunity to talk through your employee’s requirements and discuss whether there are any reasonable adjustments you could make to ensure their return to work goes as smoothly as possible.

Sometimes, a phased return to work is the best course of action, allowing someone to work a few hours a day and slowly build back up to working their contracted hours. Being transparent and open in your communication is the key to successfully managing absences and supporting a phased return to work.

5. Build a Connected Culture

Intentionally staying connected and checking in with your employees on a regular basis is critical to supporting those struggling with mental health problems. Taking the time to go beyond the daily greeting of, “how are you?” and asking specific questions can be extremely helpful.

It is important to create space for others to speak and show compassion when they share what’s on their minds. Whether they feel willing to share or not, building a connected culture that shows how much you care is an important first step and ensures your employees know they can reach out to talk if they want to.

You should also make it a priority to check-in regularly around transition points. Whether a person is taking on a new role within the company, moving to a different part of the office, or taking on their very own team, checking in regularly lets them know that you are there to support them throughout the transition. This also provides you with a great opportunity to introduce new practices and be flexible with work protocols to further support the mental health of your workforce.

6. Invest in Management Training

Mental health in the workplace is something that everyone should be aware of and training in this area must and should be prioritised. As mental health struggles increase, it is more important than ever before that, common myths are debunked and stigmas reduced.

Investing in mental health training is a good first step. It ensures that your leaders, managers, and individual contributors within the workplace are trained up with the necessary skills to have productive conversations about mental health at work and provide appropriate support when needed.

7. Offer Mental Health Days

In the same ways that days off might be given for a migraine or sickness, it is important to offer the same for mental health. When you receive a call or an email from an employee asking for time off work due to their mental illness, you should not ignore it. Mental health warrants time off and offering mental health days is a great way to show your workforce just how much you care.

And, if you are concerned that someone in your workplace is taking too many mental health days, you can take appropriate action by asking if you can provide support in a different way.

Final Words

“HR professionals have an important role to play in safeguarding employees and addressing mental health concerns. In fact, creating a psychologically safe and supportive workplace is not just the right thing to do, it’s a legal, business and health imperative.” – Human Resources Professionals Association

It’s time to normalise mental health. As a HR Manager, your role plays an integral part in this. We hope the advice above has provided some useful information that will help you enforce positive changes within your workplace.’

Source: HR News -