7 tips for managing mental health at work

UPDATE: Mental health issues cost employers up to £43bn a year. If you're not helping your staff, then you're not doing your job.

by Alexander Garrett
Last Updated: 26 Oct 2017

According to the recent government-backed report Thriving at Work, mental health costs employers between £32bn and £43bn a year, through absenteeism, presenteeism and an economy-wide draining of the talent pool. It's not somebody else's problem - the report suggests 15% of us experience symptoms of mental health problems at work. 

In this 'Crash Course' feature from June 2017, MT writer Alexander Garrett explores the best approaches to managing mental health at work. 


You've just lost an important contract because the team leader has had a breakdown and walked out. Worst of all, nobody seems to have known there was anything wrong with him. How can you ensure the mental health of your people is not overlooked in the future?

1. Bring it into the open. Breaking down the taboo surrounding mental health is paramount. Joe Stringer, who leads EY's Mental Health Network, says role models are a key element in doing that. 'We recently held a mental health awareness week event, which saw senior people share their own experiences of anxiety and depression.'

2. Normalise it. Send a clear signal that you will not deal with mental health differently from other issues. 'A simple way to communicate this is to explain that mental health will be treated in the same way as physical health,' says MIND.

3. Lay the foundations. A mental wellbeing policy outlines how employees with issues will be treated and what support is available. 'But be aware that policies don't drive culture change, action does,' says Stringer. 'What can be helpful in any policy is to outline the difference between formal physical and mental health support channels, such as occupational health, and the informal networks available.'

4. Managers are key. If managers establish good relationships with the people around them, then they will be able to talk openly when there is a problem,' says occupational psychologist Emma Donaldson-Feilder, director of Affinity at Work. 'Managers also need to look out for change - for example if someone who's normally talkative becomes quiet and withdrawn.'

5. Park your prejudice. Don't write someone off just because they have suffered with depression or a similar mental health condition. 'If one person has been diagnosed with mental illness but they are managing it well, they may be a much better performer than someone on your team who is suffering from stress and not managing it,' says Donaldson-Feilder.

6. Offer real help. EY has pioneered a fast-track psychiatric referral pathway to the company's private health insurer that can offer therapy and inpatient treatment. Stringer says: 'We also provide self-managed support through our Mental Health Network, a buddy scheme that pairs people with similar experiences, Mental Health First Aid Training and Thrive, which runs health and wellbeing awareness training.'

7. Encourage positive behaviours. 'Promote mindfulness, and encourage exercise,' says Stringer. 'You can do that one-to-one meeting in the gym or on a walk, it's been proven to be far more effective than medication.' He adds: 'And don't promote the wrong behaviours - don't make heroes out of people who are tied to their desks.'

DO SAY

'Each of us can face mental health issues during our career. We will offer support and treat you fairly if that happens.'

DON'T SAY

'This is no place for anyone who can't take the pressure.'

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