The Mental Health Foundation reports that 12.7% of all sick days in the UK come from mental health conditions. With 1 in 6 people experiencing mental health issues at any one time, it is more important than ever that the workplace treats all health conditions the same.
Suffering from mental health problems such as depression, anxiety or stress can lead to reduced performance in the workplace and in turn further stress on the individual. With good support from companies, employees can feel comfortable to discuss how they are feeling and get the help they need faster. In turn, the business will perform best when all employees are happy and healthy.
Supporting an employee through any mental health issues says a lot about the company and culture, but also allows you to keep a valued member of staff, after all, you employed them for a reason. A supportive and open culture must be created to allow employees to feel they can ask for help when needed.
According to Open Access Government 40% of employees would be uncomfortable if they had to tell their manager that they needed time off for mental health reasons. It is often the case that when time off is needed for this reason, they will hide the real issue and try to get back to work as quickly as possible. This inevitably leads to further absence and reduced focus on their work. By creating a culture where mental health does not carry any stigma, employees will be able to discuss any issues and you can support them with adjustments to their working day.
The recommended advice can, of course, vary depending on the severity of the employee's mental health and the issues they are facing, but where possible you should be flexible with their requirements. Here are some ideas on how you could support your staff in the event of any mental health problems:
- Be understanding. You should treat mental health in the same way you would if an employee came to you with any other health issue. The employee might need medical appointments or counseling and support sessions. You should be flexible where possible to accommodate these to facilitate recovery and a faster return to work.
- Listen to the employee and ask how you can help. It might be that they know exactly what they need from you as an employer and you should try to accommodate where possible.
- Offer flexibility. Working different hours or working from home might be options you can offer that would allow the employee to continue working but with adjustments that work better for them at this time. Keeping a routine and continuing to perform in their role is likely going to be good for the employee's recovery and obviously the best thing for the business, so offer what you can.
- Regular communication. Don’t let the conversation be a one time chat. Keep checking in with the employee to discuss how they are getting on and to prioritise workload. Follow their lead if they are more comfortable face-to-face or over the phone.
- Ask how they want to communicate absence or changes in work. In some cases, it will be necessary to pass some communication to the team or the rest of the business. If an employee is having a long term absence, check with them how they would like this shared, if at all. The aim is for the employee to fully return to work, so this must be handled correctly so they feel comfortable when the time comes.
- No pressure. You might have been understanding initially and offered flexibility or been happy with the time off but you must not rush them back to work. Doing so could have a detrimental effect on their recovery and create further absence down the line. By all means, discuss returning to work but in a way that allows them to lead the process.
- Continued support. Mental health can be complex, just because someone has been able to return to work does not mean they are no longer suffering. Keep the conversation open and make it clear you will continue to support them through their time with the company.
Mental health-related absence cost the UK economy nearly £35 billion last year as reported by the Centre for Mental Health. By removing any stigma from your workplace and creating an open comfortable culture, employees will feel more able to talk early on in any issues they face. Intervention and flexibility from the start can help with faster recovery and ultimately a quicker return to the workplace.