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We Must Stop Talking About The Importance Of Good Mental Health At Work - And Start Acting

02/10/2017 12:32 BST | Updated 02/10/2017 12:32 BST

Supporting employees' mental wellbeing is a critical business issue for organisations, but it's hard to know where to start.

The Institute of Leadership & Management's latest thought leadership research report: Mind Culture reveals alarming new statistics on how mental health is handled by managers; but more importantly, gives practical solutions on how workplaces can move forward and take action to improve levels of support.

Mental health costs the UK £70bn per year and the cost to employers is thought to be more than £26bn a year. With mental ill health being the leading case of sickness absence in the UK, I wonder why we are not doing more to bridge the gap and stop talking about the importance of good mental health at work and start acting.

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Our research found that more than half (51%) of survey respondents who had confided in their line manager about a mental health issue did not receive any extra support. Even worse, 8% respondents faced negative consequences, including being sacked or forced out, demoted or subjected to disciplinary action.

We also found a significant lack of communication and understanding between what support employers think they offer and what staff recognise as support. While in our report no clear support service for managers was identified, 87% thought they managed the situation well. 68% of managers surveyed for Mind Culture reported that they offered support with workload, but this was a far higher percentage than indicated by respondents reporting what help or adjustments were offered.

The size of an organisation is also a significant factor, with SMEs being voted as the worst offenders for providing adequate support for mental health conditions. 45% of respondents said that organisations with 10-49 employees didn't support mental health problems very well and 42% said support in organisations with 100-249 employees was also low.

Don't just send staff home

Stigma about mental health and what it may signify about the individual and their worth in the workplace continues to mean that people suffer in silence.

If employees come to you with an issue, your response should be to listen, aid with their workload, direct them to further support and let the workplace be a focus and a driver for their recovery. By remaining in work staff can develop strategies to cope with their symptoms and it helps to avoid isolation and further deterioration.

That's if an employee comes to you at all. Talking about mental health worries to employers can be distressing for the individual. For your team to feel that you are approachable, The Institute of Leadership & Management say a new Mind Culture needs to be adopted.

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Become mental health literate

Employers would be wise to invest in basic mental health literacy so all employees can spot the signs when they, or a colleague, may need help. All managers should also be trained in spotting the signs of severe burnout. There are brilliant existing resources out there such as Business in the Community and Public Health England's mental health toolkit for employers. A great example of this is Brentwood Community Print, a print and graphic design social enterprise business in Essex, where managers and staff are largely trained in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA).

Director Audrey Clark says: "We operate an open-door policy and everyone knows that if there is an issue that day affecting their mental health, they will be listened to straight away. That person would not be sent home but encouraged to focus on work whilst being supported by their peers."

Take ownership

Every organisation must encourage its managers to engage in critical self -reflection. Not only should a manager regularly ask him or herself if they are dealing with staff mental health issues effectively, but also whether they might also be contributing to any employee's mental illness inadvertently. Certain management styles can aggravate or perhaps induce stress and depression in even the most resilient staff.

Collaborate

The Mind Culture report found that some employees suffering from a mental illness feel there is no support for them at work, while others become overwhelmed by the amount of support offered. This disparity can be avoided and an appropriate midway point found by treating the illness as a 'mutual situation' in which the organisation, via the appropriate managers, and the member of staff affected, collaborate to find the best long-term solution.

Signpost to wider services

In London, The Lion's Barber Collective have been working together with The Bluebeards Revenge male grooming range to use the opportunity of a regular haircut to start conversations about mental health. They organise a training programme teaching barbers to 'recognise, talk, listen and advise' clients and work with the Samaritans charity signposting the services they offer to clients in need. Founder Tom Chapman says: "I don't believe that barbers are able to take over from mental health professionals, nor do they want to, however I do believe that we could bridge the gap between the community and the professionals."

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