It’s a topic that most will avoid, especially in the context of work however, there is a reason mental health or more accurately, mental ill health is increasingly the subject of advertising campaigns, literature, and medical conferences the world over. According to the WHO, one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. In Ireland, the HSE has identified that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men will seek treatment for depression at some point and, in the UK more than 21% of people surveyed had called in sick to avoid work due to feelings of stress. With over 32 million people employed in the UK and Ireland, these numbers reflect a staggering portion of the workforce.
Similarly, the economic cost of work-related stress and anxiety is a common theme in business media. Pick up a copy of any business or HR publication and it’s hard not to read about the cost of our busy work lives and the need for employee wellbeing programmes. There is a need, employee mental and physical health should be top of the priority list for HR professionals.
There are an increasing number of technologies available to support/improve the mental and physical health of employees. Everything from recognition software, to movement trackers all have measurable impact and are supported by ample research and literature. No doubt this is a key contributing factor to the rapid growth of the employee wellbeing industry. It’s reassuring to think that employers are acting in a responsible way towards the health and wellbeing of their employees. However, when we consider that 59 per cent of employees surveyed in the Republic of Ireland felt uncomfortable talking to their manager about their mental health and 14 per cent in the UK had resigned as a result of workplace stress, how effective can these programs really be?
Although mental health problems are generally treatable, the global stigma associated with depression and anxiety significantly reduces the likelihood of patients seeking help, and therefore receiving treatment. Findings from a UK ‘Time to Change’ survey showed that over 40 per cent of employees find it hard to talk to or open-up about their mental health to anyone. The research also showed that 32 per cent of employees felt they were ‘treated differently’ by their line manager (after returning to work) following absence related to mental ill health. Even more concerning, 20 per cent of survey participants also felt their fellow colleagues’ attitudes towards them had changed!
It’s admirable to see corporate trail blazers implementing employee wellbeing programs and HR hero’s raising awareness of mental health in the workplace, but this progressive attitude isn’t seen on every corner of the high street. It’s most often “Great Place to Work” winners such as Propellernet in the UK or Global Enterprises like Google who will take progressive steps, allocate sufficient budget, and often appoint a dedicated employee engagement specialist, to ensure the success of programs. Most businesses however either don’t have the budget to allocate or (much worse), don’t believe allocating the budget will improve their bottom-line.
No matter the size of your company or how progressive the corporate culture, there are certain steps every HR team can take to raise awareness of metal health in work and reduce the stigma.
1. Mental health training for managers: Just like having people certified in first aid it is equally important to educate managers about mental health. Training suitable people to notice the signals or symptoms that someone may demonstrate if they are going through a tough time can make all the difference to aiding recovery. Equally important is teaching team leaders/managers how to deal with issues as they arise and how to respond in a crisis. Get an expert in for a training day so people can ask questions.
2. Educate your employees: A reoccurring theme I have found is that employees don’t know the “protocol” in work if they do experience a mental health problem. Make sure your team know who they can turn to, if you have an EAP, encourage the use of this service. Often managers worry that if employees are using the company EAP it’s a bad thing when in-fact it’s very positive. It means your staff know where to turn in time of personal crisis!
3. Support a mental health charity: There are countless charities out there doing great work to raise awareness of mental health problems, offering bereavement counselling to families of suicide victims, educating youths – the list goes on and on. Choose one to support this year and get the company involved in at least two fundraising activities. You can participate in an event as a team, like the Darkness into Light run, collect on behalf of your charity around your local town or plan your own event. Whatever it is, use the occasions as an opportunity to work with the charity and talk about mental health.
4. Get on board with World Mental Health week: WMHW is great opportunity to talk about mental health in the workplace. Choose a different topic every day; ‘eating for a happy mind’ or “mindfulness masterclass”. Whatever it is, encourage your team to talk openly and ask questions. If you have the budget, invite a guest speak. Celebrity advocates or medical professionals such as Dr Ian Gargan are a great way to create some hype.
5. Technology as an intervention – eHealth is a growing industry and its application in mental health education is gaining great momentum. Create a directory to help your employees access information more easily. Include any apps your company provide – POWR or Sleepio, and a list of useful websites and resources. If you’re not currently offering an employee wellbeing app then try to include consumer apps which are free of charge.
Reducing stigma is about educating people and creating an environment of disclosure. There are countless tools and services you can offer to support mental health in work and at home, but the most important thing is to get people talking. So, whether you invest in; a mental health app, workshops, or host a fundraising event, always create as much buzz as possible to keep people talking long after the fact.
Author: Sara Glynn, Marketing Manager, Wrkit