Work and Wellbeing · 3 November 2017

Concerned about workplace mental health? Here are the signs to watch out for

Workplace mental health needs proper management
Workplace mental health needs proper management

Workplace mental health issues can have all sorts of impacts – so make sure you recognise the signs to mitigate the damage, and get employees the support needed.

The majority of employees have experienced symptoms of poor mental health – around 77 per cent, according to a survey by Business in the Community. Despite this, only 11 per cent have discussed a recent workplace mental health problem with their line managers and half say they would not approach their boss with a concern on this front.

In fact, 35 per cent of employees did not contact anyone for support on the most recent occasion they experienced poor mental health, and their colleagues are unlikely to reach out to them – 86 per cent said they would think twice before offering to help a colleague whose mental health concerned them.

The reason for this disconnect is very likely the stigma surrounding mental health, and the fear of being treated differently. Indeed, nine per cent of employees who experienced symptoms of poor mental health experienced disciplinary action – and in some cases, dismissal.

While it is certainly true that poor mental health can impact an employee’s performance at work, disciplinary action is no more appropriate than it would be to punish someone for having a headache.

Businesses must learn to foster a culture of understanding and support so that employees are comfortable to get help earlier, and in this way businesses can mitigate risk of presenteeism and absence for mental health reasons.

We caught up with Dr Mark Winwood, Director of Psychological Services at AXA PPP healthcare, to find out more about the effects mental health can have on a workplace.

What should businesses look out for?

“Changes in behaviour. Fundamentally, our whole emotional response is based on four factors – it’s the way we think, the way that our mood changes, the way we behave, and also our physical selves. They’re the four areas that are impacted by our mental wellbeing, but what employers can look for is changes in an individual’s performance.

“They can look for changes in the employee’s attendance pattern, they can look for changes in an individual’s behaviour – we might be able to see people are using substances to manage health problems, such as alcohol, cigarettes or other drugs. That’s going to have an impact on their ability to perform in the workplace.

“They might recognise that somebody that used to be very laissez faire and used to get on with everybody is no longer engaged in the workplace or attending social functions – any fundamental changes in an individual.”

How can a business offer support for workplace mental health issues?

“If someone is not looking very well, or has changed their appearance or their attitude, we need to recognise and address it – never assume what’s going on, but a manager’s role is to direct them towards support.

“Some organisations will have to rely on local NHS resources, but you can facilitate that by allowing them time off when necessary, or by allowing them to change their shifts in order to attend sessions or access support etc.

“Managers have an opportunity every time they meet with their team to promote wellbeing services and to address any difficulties in the organisation.

“It’s about treating people with dignity to be honest with you – we’re not automatons, everyone will respond differently to change and managers need to accept that. Some people thrive on change and pressure, other people don’t manage in the same way.”

For more information to help support the health and wellbeing of your employees please visit:

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Letitia Booty is a special projects journalist for Business Advice. She has a BA in English Literature from the University of East Anglia, and since graduating she has written for a variety of trade titles. Most recently, she was a reporter at SME magazine.

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