Managing staff with mental health issues can be challenging. We all have physical and mental health, and in both cases our health can vary on a daily basis. It is estimated that one in four people experience a mental health issue in any given year, and that one in six employees is depressed, anxious or suffering from stress-related problems at any time, not necessarily work-related! However, many of us know little about mental health. We often don’t spot the signs that a colleague, employee, or we ourselves are struggling, and this delays help and recovery.
Last week Business in the Community (BiTC) released a Mental Health at Work report. Worryingly, the report uncovered the fact that over three-quarters of employees have experienced poor mental health, and almost half of workers would not talk to their manager about a mental health issue. Although employers are talking more about it, there appears to be not enough being done about it.
There seems to be a difference in the perception of company bosses and the reality of employees when it comes to mental health. Most board members believe their organisation is supportive on the issue, but 56% of people who have disclosed a mental health issue at work said their employer took no mitigating actions, according to BiTC.
A vital and practical step you can take, and a key recommendation of the BiTC report, is investment in first-aid training in mental health for staff. Mental health first-aid is the mental health equivalent of a physical first-aid course. It teaches people the skills and confidence to recognise the signs and symptoms of common mental health issues, listen empathetically and effectively guide a person towards the right support.
Would you know what to say to someone who may be feeling suicidal? We spend a considerable amount of our lives at work and with more of us working longer hours, under more pressure, developing mental health first-aid support in the workplace is critical not just for employees, but for businesses too. According to Mental Health Promotion Network, mental health issues like stress, depression or anxiety account for almost 70 million days off sick per year and 40% of all sickness at work.
There’s a growing momentum for change, and hundreds more businesses across a range of sectors are implementing mental health training for staff. Employers have a duty of care to their workforce, including other employees if there is a risk of a staff member with a mental health issue doing harm to others. It is advisable to know how to act in a situation where an employee informs you of mental health issues.
Managing staff with mental health issues doesn’t automatically mean they have a disability, but it is often (but not always) the case that serious mental health issues will constitute a disability. This will often mean making reasonable adjustments to try to support those with mental ill-health.
It is important not to stereotype or make assumptions about mental health. Some employers will have specific mental health policies, which commit to providing:
- formal staff development and support
- actively trying to make sure the workplace is free of bullying and harassment
- that any workplace risk assessments specifically address stress
- making sure that workloads are monitored (including through the appraisal process)
- offer genuine flexible working opportunities
- access to confidential counselling through employee assistance programmes (in larger companies)
All of which are recognised as good practice. Employers may sometimes have to carry out a difficult balancing act where the behaviour of an employee with a mental health issue starts to have an impact on other staff. Our advice is to not ignore the problem just because someone has a mental health issue, as delicate as the conversation may be for you to have. As the employer, you will still have expectations about how the employee should perform and what limitations the employee has. The courts sometimes place a high threshold on how people with serious mental illnesses should be treated in the workplace and you may wish to proceed with care if you are aware that a member of staff does have some form of mental illness.
If you want to know what you do when managing staff with mental health issues then give us a call and talk through your options – 01706 565332.
Metis HR is a professional HR Consultancy based in the North West of England supporting clients across the country. We specialise in providing outsourced HR services to small and medium-sized businesses. Call us now on 01706 565332 to discuss how we may help you.