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Mental Health in the Workplace

At our regular HR Junction breakfast meeting last month we were joined by Aurora Wellness for a discussion on Mental Health & Wellbeing in the Workplace. A topic that only five years ago would not have been the discussion of many breakfast roundtables.

Current reports however suggest that 1 in 7 people are dealing with a mental health condition in the workplace and 300,000 people with long-term mental health issues lose their jobs annually.

These statistics clearly present a huge cost to industry – £45 billion annually to be precise, as identified by Deloitte (in conjunction with mental health charity MIND) and it may be with that in mind that employers are now increasingly keen to ensure the wellbeing of their employees beyond that of a standard policy document.  

The reality is that poor mental health has a huge impact on an individual’s life and those around them, as well as the impact to their work-life where productivity levels can be affected and presentism can become an issue.  It’s apparent that mental health policies should be designed to make things easier for those in need of support.

Spotting the signs of stress

Stress can be determined as ‘demand which is greater than the capacity to cope’ and typically individuals either rise to the challenge or avoid it. Some common signs of mental distress to look out for include negative body language, tears, anger and poor decision making. If a period of prolonged stress occurs it can quickly progress to symptoms of chronic depression within a very short period of time.

People will often open up only in a trusted environment and this takes time to build. Often it is colleagues and managers who see the signs, however, there needs to be suitable situations and opportunities to build trust and provide people with the opportunity to speak. These can include regular 121s, feedback surveys, support services including occupational health, employee assistance programs and mental health first aiders or champions.

Steps for Employers

Employers are required to provide a ‘duty of care’ under the Health & Safety Act 1974 – meaning that awareness, understanding and skills should ideally be in place at every level of the workplace.

The role of management is an important one as they are in close contact with employees on a regular basis and simple steps for managers to follow include:

1. Bring your mental health policy to life
2. Promote access to your employee assistance programs
3. Sign-post to support services available
4. Refer employees to occupational health where relevant
5. Balance the company priorities with that of staff well-being. Are there adjustments or changes you can suggest or make to support individuals who may be suffering?
6. Carry out regular stress assessments of your team – not just on the back of an occupational health exercise or as part of annual performance reviews.

We’d like to thank founders Ngozi Weller and Obehi Alofoje of Aurora Wellness for hosting such an informative session and highlighting some easy steps that can be taken in the workplace to improve and support mental health and wellbeing.

Wellbeing can seem like a considerable subject to tackle, and even describing what wellbeing means to each of us can be surprisingly complex. Put simply, wellbeing = being well, something we all deserve to be at home, and in the workplace.

If you wish for greater guidance on this subject discussed, feel free to get in contact to arrange an appointment, or take a look at our Pathfinder service for employers.