In this article, we will be sharing how you can address mental health in the workplace with sensitivity, helping rather than hindering those who need support.
Mental health is different for everybody. There will be people in both your personal and professional life who are struggling with their mental health and you may not even know! This can make it difficult to reach out and provide support when it’s needed. This is particularly true when you want to support people in your workplace.
Connect one-to-one with your staff
Nobody is going to raise their hand in front of a room full of people when you ask who’s struggling with their mental health. It’s exposing and uncomfortable. Discussions about mental health are most productive when they are carried out in a private environment where you can sit down and talk with individual members of your team in confidence.
Taking the time to sit down with individuals and actively listen to what they have to say has a profound effect on mental health rates in the workplace and can go a long way towards showing you care and building trust. You should aim to meet with individual employees on a regular basis to check-in.
These meetings should be focused on emotional wellbeing and catered towards how you can help.
Encourage team involvement and connectedness
Cultivating a healthy work culture takes time and effort but is well worth it in the long run. One of the most important aspects of a healthy work culture is a team of people who are involved in supporting one another.
Many of your employees may feel stressed or overwhelmed at work and having a supportive network of colleagues can go a long way towards reducing this stress.
Whether your team are back in the office, working remotely, or enjoying a hybrid way of working, it’s important to encourage team involvement and connectedness. There are many ways you can achieve this from clubs and game nights to informal message boards and buddy systems.
At the end of the day, a team who is well connected will support each other and goes a long way towards building a healthy work culture.
Know the signs
As we mentioned at the start of this article, there could be many people in your life struggling with their mental health and you just don’t know. That’s the thing about mental health, it’s not always visible or apparent to the outsider looking in.
So, if it’s hard to spot and everyone is affected differently, how on earth are you supposed to address it in a sensitive way?
Well, the best strategy is to know the signs. Whether a person is clearly struggling or not, there are some common signs and behaviours that can indicate mental health problems. When you know what these are you can take steps to address them in a sensitive way. Some of the most common signs of mental health problems are:
Inability to focus
If your employee is easily distracted or finding it difficult to focus on the task in front of them, this could indicate they have something else on their mind.
Irritability or changes in mood
Another common sign of mental health issues is irritability. If you have noticed a change in a member of staff (they were once a bubbly, chatty sort of person but they are now more withdrawn), this could be a sign of a mental health problem.
Those with mental health struggles tend to push other people away. This is often because they fear being misunderstood and it can cause a fracture in relationships with friends, family members, and colleagues. If you’ve noticed relationships around the office have become more fractious recently, this may be due to mental health issues.
Have you noticed an employee who is often on their own? Who regularly turns down social invites? Who tends to shy away from social interactions? Social withdrawal, isolation, and disengagement is a common sign of mental health problems and can indicate a person may be struggling.
When you know the signs, you can be more aware of which employees are struggling and who may need a bit of extra support. This can go a long way towards ensuring you reach out and provide support when it’s needed.
Establish clear work policies
Many employees struggle with their mental health issues in silence including combating feelings of depression, anxiety, dealing with addiction or work-related burnout.
Suffering in silence is sometimes a result of being afraid of what might happen if they share how they are feeling. Some people worry they could lose their job, the respect of their colleagues, or the level of responsibility they hold.
As a result, many people avoid talking about their mental health at work and will instead do what they can to deal with it on their own. Unfortunately, this can make things worse.
This is why it’s so important to establish clear work policies and procedures are shared with your employees. Clearly outlining your company’s mental health guidelines, support systems, and processes can be an effective way to provide the care people need.
What’s more, it can give employees the confidence to reach out or seek help if they need it, rather than shying away because they’re unsure of the consequences.
Provide mental health training
In order to address mental health in the workplace with sensitivity, you firstly need to understand it and this is why mental health training is so important. All senior members of staff should be trained in how to deal with mental health issues in the workplace.
This will ensure proper steps are taken and proper care and support actioned when employees report they are struggling.
According to Pathways, “failing to address employee well-being with effective training comes with significant risks. Employees are expecting more from their organisations, and ignoring the importance of their well-being can lead to higher rates of turnover, absenteeism, and disengagement at work […] 80% of American workers say they would consider quitting their current position for an organisation focused on employee mental health.” So, providing mental health training is crucial.
Be vulnerable and encourage openness
Did you know one of the best ways to address mental health in the workplace and support your staff is to be vulnerable yourself? We know this sounds like a challenge, but it’s one of the most effective ways to encourage a culture of openness in the workplace.
When you are vulnerable with those around you, whether it’s in sharing your struggles or being open about your life’s reality, your openness helps break down barriers and is a great way to build trust with your employees.
More often than not, there is an invisible barrier between employees and their employers, between managers and the teams they lead. This is unfortunate as it can make openness and honesty (from both sides) a challenge.
To help break down these barriers, reduce stigmas, and humanise the leaders and managers at your company, it’s important to be vulnerable and open yourself. This grants permission for others to do the same.
Encourage healthy behaviours
Did you know most of the behaviours you see in the workplace originated from you? It might sound a little bit extreme however, if you’re working late your employees will be doing the same.
This can quickly develop into a company culture of guilt where employees feel they should work late, work through lunch, not take holidays, work through sickness, etc, all because that’s what the boss does. As you can imagine, work cultures like this quickly dissolve into environments full of mental health struggles.
To avoid creating an unhealthy work culture, it’s important you encourage healthy behaviours. You can do this by modelling healthy practices for your employees. For example, you should take regular breaks, go out for lunch, avoid working crazy hours, switch off outside of work, and go on holiday once in a while (at least!).
This will give your employees permission to create a healthier work/life balance which, in turn, will hugely benefit their mental health.
Allow for flexible working arrangements
Since the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, the way we work has changed. Employees are no longer required to work from the office, sat at a desk, for 8 hours a day. Instead, many companies are now advertising for fully remote or hybrid working positions.
Allowing for flexible working arrangements at your company is a great way to provide mental health support for those who need it. Often, employees who are struggling with their mental health can find rigid work schedules restricting and stressful.
What’s more, depending on when their symptoms of mental health tend to flare up, flexible working arrangements can help individuals work around more challenging times and strike a healthier balance.
You could start by trialling a remote work day per week or a flexible schedule where, as long as your employees work the required amount of time each week, they can choose when and where they work.
You might find it takes time to find what works for each employee. So, be prepared to have a time of trial and error as you all adjust to the changes and find new working rhythms that work best for you and your team.
Communicate more than necessary
This might seem like an odd point to make, however communicating more than you think is necessary can make a big difference for those on your team struggling with their mental health.
As you already know, communication in the workplace is essential for so many things – from effective working through to satisfied clients. However, it is also essential for supporting your staff.
Since the pandemic, communication levels naturally dropped as teams were separated through remote working and managers became overwhelmed with new challenges to overcome and a workload that seemed to double.
As a result, many employees felt isolated, abandoned, and forgotten about. This had a profoundly negative effect on mental health in the workplace and a significant effect on staff turnover rates across numerous industries.
Even though we are now out of the dark days of the pandemic, communication remains one of the most vital parts of maintaining a healthy work culture. By communicating with your team more regularly, you can ensure they understand the work required of them, what resources are available, and to ask for support when it’s needed.
Addressing mental health in the workplace with sensitivity can feel challenging. However, we hope the tips in this article will help you feel more prepared to take on the challenge. The most important thing to remember is education is key. It will equip you with the tools you need to address mental health in the workplace with sensitivity and empathy.
About the Author
Chris Harley is passionate about improving the lives of others through his work and sharing advice around mental health practices. When Chris isn’t researching the latest holistic and wellbeing therapies, he’s spending time with his two cats, usually curled up on the sofa and reading a murder mystery book.