How Can You Show Genuine Support for Employees with Mental Health Conditions?
There are employers who genuinely care about and invest in the mental health of their employees, and there are employers who post about how much they care during mental health awareness days/weeks.
It’s a sad reality.
As mental health has entered more mainstream discussions and the world of work, it’s becoming difficult to distinguish the genuine efforts from the disingenuous.
For every business taking steps to address and better mental health in the workplace, several other businesses make superficial public gestures for a few days at a time and make little effort any other day of the year.
How can organisations start cultivating a genuine culture of mental health awareness and support?
1) Avoid empty gestures
“We care about the mental health of our employees here at ___, which is why we’re committed to…,”
These workplaces generally have more red flags than the Beijing Olympics.
Stating that you care or that you’re making a commitment isn’t the same as actually caring and making a commitment.
Nearly one in five organisations are not currently doing anything to improve employee health and wellbeing, according to CIPD.
Though the pandemic put a renewed focus on mental health, many organisations have shifted their attention elsewhere in the meantime and it has fallen off many senior leaders’ agendas (from 75% to 70%).
Even though it’s rising on the corporate agenda, there is still a gap between what organisations state they are doing and what is actually being done.
2) Set a standard
How can a workplace that values 24/7 productivity ever be a workplace that also values the mental health and wellbeing of its employees?
Unrealistic standards aren’t compatible with a positive approach to mental health.
The list below are common examples of standards that are actively working against a positive, proactive approach to mental health:
– Employees frequently respond to work correspondence outside of working hours, or when sick or on holiday
– Output is the main measure of success in the workplace
– Employees and senior managers frequently work through breaks and lunch hours to complete work
– Employees generally only speak about work-related topics in the workplace
– There is little flexibility in working (e.g., hybrid or remote working)
– Line managers generally only have team meetings, rarely initiating one-to-ones with individual employees
– Mental health is rarely discussed in the workplace beyond the acknowledgement of specific mental health awareness days
These might seem inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, yet they point to a wider culture that doesn’t value mental health.
For example, one-to-ones might seem unnecessary, yet this can often lead to a reactive mental health approach as if an individual employee is struggling with their mental health, it will generally only be noticed at the point of crisis.
3) Train your line managers
70% of organisations look to line managers to take primary responsibility for managing both short- and long-term absence.
Yet how many line managers feel confident to have sensitive discussions around mental health, to signpost, or spot the early signs of an employee struggling with their mental health?
Providing training for line managers can go a long way in ensuring the first point of contact for most employees is adequately equipped to manage and assist with mental health-related issues.
This is essential as management style has consistently ranked as one of the most common causes of stress in research conducted by CIPD.
If this isn’t an area you’ve invested in already, it’s definitely an area that should be considered top of the list.
4) Go beyond awareness
Awareness is the foundation or the stepping-stone for mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.
It’s great (and essential) to raise our awareness and knowledge around mental health, yet this is only one area in a wider mental health strategy.
Slapping up a few posters and calling it a day isn’t going to cause fundamental change, action is.
Now, the type of action will depend on your workplace and can also be determined by asking employees which types of support they’d value most (e.g., through focus groups).
This could include:
– Implementing flexible working options (e.g., remote working, hybrid working, flexitime, time off for GP or therapy appointments)
– Creating an online portal with mental health and wellbeing resources, or support from Occupational Health or an on-site counsellor if available
– Line manager training to support employee mental health and short- and long-term absences
– Having senior management act as champions of the mental health strategy and set an example
– Talking about mental health openly and without judgement in the workplace
– Offering professional development opportunities for employees
5) Put your money where your mouth is
Bottom line – if you’re saying it, you should be acting on it.
Any business can post their support for mental health during mental health awareness week but very few will be actively supporting their employees year-round.
This won’t generally happen overnight, which is why it’s so important to start implementing a mental health strategy sooner rather than later.
Mental health and wellbeing aren’t standalone concepts in the workplace.
They tie in with diversity and inclusion and the values and culture of a company – it’s up to the company as to how genuine these values actually are.
If you want to show a commitment to your employees, then you have to take targeted and meaningful action.
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