Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. 1 in 6 report a common, recurring mental health problem each week. Around 3 in 100 people in England are diagnosed with depression every week. It feels as though these frightening statistics never end, and the numbers feel like they will never come down. To assume that your employees and fellow work peers don’t struggle with this in the workplace is not only naive, but statistically, it’s wrong.

In a piece written only a few months ago, we touched on mental healthcare in the UK, and what the patient experience in healthcare industries currently looks like. The stats from then have barely shifted, and still stand to discuss – ‘56% of employees are experiencing symptoms of depression. 60% are dealing with anxiety. More than one in three colleagues report they ‘sometimes’ or ‘often’ turn up for work when sick, according to Sabio research’.

Now that mental health discussion is no longer a taboo subject and something to be shied away from, workplaces should be safe places. How can this be done?

Time for leaders to step in

Carrying on with usual work when you’re mentally struggling can be a real challenge. It can be difficult to stay motivated, you can’t carry out your usual tasks and meetings, and it can feel exhausting. Everyone’s symptoms look different, and not everyone has the same struggles. But there are things that leaders can do to help. Let’s make the workplace a help, not a hinderance.

Your employees are your most important asset. Simply put, you can’t run a business without them. During working hours, employees are under your duty of care. There are things you can do to take care of their emotions, struggles, and let them know they are not alone. Here are our top 5 recommendations:

1. Frequent check ins

This may seem like an obvious one, but it’s so important. Checking in with your staff to see how they’re doing is a crucial first step in understanding how they’re doing. With many, they can often find it difficult to reach out in the first instance, and end up suffering in silence. As a leader and being in control of your work environments, you should start these conversations.

At CXM, we have an open space to discuss how we feel. Something that helps in this is that every Monday morning, we have a team meeting to check-in and see how we all are. This is something that works well and sets us up for the rest of the week, and is easy to implement. Not only does it create closer bonds within the team, but it creates transparency.

As well as team check in meetings, it’s also important to schedule in one-to-ones. Maybe some staff don’t feel fully comfortable in sharing their feelings to a group. Try to ensure their feelings are not neglected and they know they have some they can talk to at work. It’s important that no one feels alone. Here are some questions you can ask your employees:

  • How are you feeling today?
  • How are you feeling about this upcoming week?
  • Do you want to talk about anything non-work related?
  • How have you been coping with your tasks?
  • Do you need anything from me?

2. Be observant

While check-ins are an important first step, it’s equally important to see your employees, rather than only hearing them. Not everyone feels comfortable sharing their feelings, in a team or one-to-one setting. This could be a case of building trust in the work space, fear of being judged or seen differently, or perhaps they have never been the type to open up. 36% of UK adults never make space in their schedules to talk to others about their mental health. Your male colleagues are statistically most likely to stay silent on how they feel, too. 40% of men have never spoken to anyone about their mental health.

In this case, the best thing to do is be observant. Don’t push your staff to share how they feel if they don’t feel comfortable doing so. Sometimes there are tell-tale signs in their behaviours that can indicate they’re not doing well. These can include:

  • Regularly missing deadlines
  • Being disorganised
  • Being (more) quiet/disengaged
  • Loss of confidence in their abilities
  • They don’t seem their usual self – whatever this looks like to you
  • Physical symptoms – fatigue, headaches, panic attacks

When you observe these symptoms, it’s encouraging to let your employees know that you see them, and you’re there for them. Drop a simple message of “I’ve noticed you haven’t been yourself lately. I’m here if there’s anything I can do to support you, just let me know’.

3. Understand different workflows

Luckily, we’re now in an age where the expectations to stay in an office 9-5, 5 days a week are behind us. Hybrid working and fully remote roles are becoming much more commonplace, and may be a huge help to the health of your workforce. With these, it’s important to stay flexible and open to accommodating what your employees need to do to take care of themselves.

If the job role is initially advertised as hybrid with 3 days in the office, but a new start finds the office to be anxiety-inducing, change this. Give your employees the space to see what works for them and makes them the most productive. On the flip side, if the role is fully remote, and your employee is feeling depressed from isolation, try and set up in-person team building events. If someone needs to work an hour later as they have therapy scheduled in the morning, let them do so. As long as the work is being done and deadlines are met, the way in which it gets completed should not be an issue.

It’s so crucial to make the work environment and workflows tailored to your employees and their needs. Not only will this keep their job satisfaction high, but you may be playing a part in keeping their mental health stable too.

4. Always listen – be open and understanding

No matter what you choose to do to support your team’s mental health, this is the crux of it all. You can’t go much further if you’re not understanding what is going on with your team – that’s just falling at the first hurdle! Show your employees that you care, ask them to explain to you what signs you should look out for, what they may be diagnosed with, what they need from you.

5. Staying educated

Following on, getting education in mental health issues and supporting this is a foolproof way of showing your understanding. For example, if you know that someone in your team struggles with an eating disorder, educate yourself on what is best to say to them, how to check in with them, and what this health condition actually means. Be open to learning and understanding. You will create a space that is welcoming and non-judgmental.

With your education, you could even host workshops for others in your company. Let’s all help each other.

Final thoughts

There is so much that can be said and done when it comes to mental health. This piece is merely a small first step in the right direction. But we all have to start somewhere to create safe workplaces. This can be said for every aspect of working life, but building trust and transparency is vital. Be sensitive, and offer a helping hand. You never know who might need it.

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