The theme for today's World Mental Health Day is 'mental health in the workplace' - a much needed focus given that three out of every five employees believe work has adversely affected their mental health.
According to the Mental Health at Work 2017 report, released by Business in the Community (BITC) and sponsored by Mercer, 60% of employees have experienced mental health issues in the last year due to work, while 31% have been formally diagnosed with a mental health issue.
Even so, mental health remains one of the most difficult subjects to talk about at work. Those surveyed said they felt more comfortable talking about seven other equality and social issues, including race, age, physical health and religious belief.
Most worrying of all, 15% of respondents said that after they had disclosed a mental health issue, they were subjected to disciplinary procedures, demotion or dismissal. So it's perhaps unsurprising that employers lose £2.4bn a year replacing staff affected by mental health issues.
Keeping work healthy
Work can be good for us, giving us an outlet to develop and use our skills, earn an income, interact with others and stretch ourselves in positive ways. Problems arise when we're put under unacceptable levels of pressure, negatively impacted by constant change or left unsupported and isolated.
In total, there are six Management Standards identified by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) that are essential to creating a culture of health. So, if you haven't given this any thought yet, why not use World Mental Health Day to take a moment to understand the factors identified as being most important to sustaining good mental health at work?
HSE Management Standards for optimising mental health at work:
- Demands: You are given adequate and achievable work, with your skills and abilities matched to job demands. Any concerns about your work environment are also addressed.
- Control: You have some say over your workloads and deadlines. You are allowed to play to your strengths and feel able to manage your day in ways that are healthy for you.
- Relationships: You and your colleagues are allowed to have 'water cooler conversations', enjoy social spaces, foster good workplace relationships and help and support each other.
- Role: You understand your role and objectives, have been provided with clear information about what's expected of you and don't feel like the goalposts are being constantly changed.
- Change: Change and the need for change are regularly communicated. You understand the probable impact of any changes to your job, the timetable for changes and are supported while changes are being made.
- Support: Your manager understands his or her duty of care to you, makes time to talk to you one-to-one and knows how to direct you towards appropriate support whenever needed.
Normalising mental health
A major issue with creating a healthy workplace is that very few managers know what to say or do with someone who discloses a mental health issue. If you had a back problem, the chances are your manager would have a clearly defined care pathway, featuring a physical assessment, recommended adjustments and support to put these into practice while you recovered.
But if you admitted to struggling with extreme anxiety or feelings of low self-worth, the chances are your manager wouldn't have a clue what to do with you. They might attempt to brush away your concerns or think they should be able to tell you about what they did they time they felt like you. But what if they never felt like that?
Fortunately, managers don't need to be mental health professionals, or even to have experienced what someone's going through to support them effectively. They only need to be able to direct them towards appropriate support, such as the trained professionals at the end of an Employee Assistance Helpline (EAP), fast-track counselling service, HR department or even a charity helpline.
Critical to destigmatising mental health is normalising people's experience of recovering from and managing mental health issues, by ensuring managers know how to direct individuals to use the available support services. In the same way that physical assessments and workplace adjustments have been used to normalise people's experience of, and willingness to seek help with, musculoskeletal issues.
Only once there is a pragmatic response to mental health will people finally gain the confidence to start asking for the support that is so clearly needed.
Dr Wolfgang Seidl is a partner and workplace health consulting leader for Mercer, the global health and benefits consultancy