Detecting, destigmatising and supporting mental health challenges in the workplace
Many people today will have had personal experience with mental health related challenges in the workplace, and almost everyone will know someone who has suffered or is still suffering in some way. Lynette Deutsch, Founder and CEO of Endaba, feels passionately that now, more than ever is the time to challenge the industry to take action.
Lynette has been passionately advocating mental health in the workplace for a number of years. She has had personal experience with the issue and truly understands the need to address the stigma in order to ensure positive change in the workplace.
Lynette recently hosted a dinner in collaboration with Minds@Work bringing together a group of senior HR professionals from the fields of retail, FMCG, finance, and law to share their experiences and the steps they have taken to create a positive and open environment to support employees’ wellbeing as well as helping to end the stigma around mental health illness.
During the course of the evening they shared personal and professional experiences, gave honest and emotive accounts and listened to one another’s stories. Lynette facilitated the discussion around identifying signs and ways they support employees to deal with stress, depression and anxiety, the effective reporting structures and processes they have in place, as well as hot topics including the mental health pay gap, bullying within the senior ranks and fear of litigation around burnout.
The debate circled around whether businesses have the right skills and resources in place to:
- Sufficiently and proactively identify colleagues who might be facing stress, depression, anxiety or other mental health challenges
- Create an environment which makes it ok to openly talk about mental health concerns and ask for help, without feeling stigmatised
Discussions at the event revolved around positive actions that all managers can take that work to not only end the stigma around mental health, but also enable employers to be equipped to offer the first and sometimes vital care. Some of these actions are summarised below:
- Create a genuinely safe and confidential environment, appreciating that this could limit the actions possible due to the need for confidentiality
- Manage workloads to ensure they match an employees’ ability and experience, with reasonable deadlines. The best way to do this is to ensure that employees are part of the planning of their workload
- Discuss training and development with individual employees so they can see a clear progression path within the company as it gives employees something to work towards, to feel valued, and to watch themselves grow with the company. Employees who are engaged in their work and understand the company and their personal objectives will be more motivated to drive the company forward, alongside reaching their own personal goals
- Train managers to recognise mental health challenges; however it must be accepted that they have limited expertise in the field and limits should be set on the conversation which would be more appropriately handled by a mental health professional. Jon Bartlett, who attended the event, runs The Mental Health First Aider course which helps businesses to recognise the symptoms of mental health problems, provide initial help, and guide a person towards appropriate professional help
- For staff working in isolation, create clear and regular lines of communication; including meetings or phone calls to ensure they feel valued and a part of the business
- Start a buddy scheme to help employees integrate back into the business after time away, to support them in their role and make them feel part of the team
- Ensure suitable work environments – noise, temperature and light all have a big impact on wellbeing. Often creating an area where employees can enjoy some ‘down-time’ can make all the difference. Google understand the importance of this and the founder of the design company behind the headquarters Lee Penson reveals it’s “all about human beings and that’s it. Think sunken snugs, comfort, fun…health, visual stimulation, relaxation, exercise, fresh air and you’ll get what it’s all about as a HQ”. The aim of these offices is to improve retention and the overall wellbeing of employees
- Ensure that your staff have a good work/life balance. Whilst short term, long hours may seem manageable and boost immediate productivity, lack of sleep and time away from work can lead to lower productivity, irritability, and poor performance
- Introduce a flexible hours scheme; if staff are able to fit their lives around their workload, they will repay you with commitment to the business
- Organise exercise and social events to encourage employees to build relationships with one another. It allows down time and exercise is one of the most effective ways to improve mental health, relieving stress, improving memory and boosting overall moods and energy levels!
- Alternative methods include meditation programmes, massage, reflexology, relaxation and wellbeing programmes are all proven ways or reducing stress and allowing employees some down time away from work
- Review employee benefits such as health insurance. This gives your employees another option if they feel speaking to someone within the business is too difficult and also leaves them feeling valued by the company
The conversation was personal, revelatory, genuine and everybody had a very impassioned viewpoint and opinion on how to not only challenge the stigma around mental health issues in the workplace, but also a genuine desire to create an environment where wellness was top of the agenda. The key take out was that although there is no short-term quick-fix solution to preventing mental health issues in the workplace, the more we talk, the more we engage and amplify these issues to bring it out from behind the closed doors, the more people will feel enabled to take action and make a change.
What was unanimously agreed was that we may not be able to completely solve the issue, but that we have a responsibility to understand how important our role is as the first link in the chain of the care to our employees. It was also agreed that a combination of both grass roots initiatives as well as top down strategic programmes working together, would need to be in place to be truly effective.
Looking ahead we imagined what healthy workplaces would look like in 5 years time, and what it would take to achieve this; after all, mental health is a business issue as well as a social one and millions of pounds are lost in revenue every year to absenteeism, presenteeism and burnout, which could be prevented.