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Mental Health: Are You Doing Enough to Support Your People?

by Brian Sims

With workplace stress on the increase and mental health issues now firmly on the agenda, this really should be something that security businesses are tackling head on. Yet, according to the charity Mind, 30% of employees questioned in a recent survey disagreed with the statement: “I would feel able to talk openly with my line manager if I was feeling stressed”. Louise McCree investigates.

Clearly, some managers don’t appreciate the implications of failing to address mental health issues within their organisation. Those who are aware of the consequences seem unclear about what the correct course of action should be. This is upheld by further statistics from Mind which state that, disappointingly, “56% of employers said that they would like to do more to improve staff well-being, but don’t feel they have the right training or guidance in order to do so.”

Unfortunately, the number of people reporting mental health conditions seems to be on the increase. It’s unlikely that this situation will change. Part of the reason could be due to longer working hours and employees very often feeling obliged to take work home with them. Combined with this is an inability on the part of some people to ‘switch off’, and particularly so if they’re contactable all of the time.

Exacerbating the situation is the rapid advance of technology, with individuals spending more time in front of screens. Most readers of Risk UK will already be aware of the harmful effects of blue light emitted from electronic devices and how this can impact our sleep. Also, the British Heart foundation reported last year that more than 20 million adults in the UK are failing to meet Government guidelines for physical activity, leading to all sorts of related health complications.

On Thursday 1 February, Mind ran its ‘Time to Talk’ day, the idea being to promote a culture of speaking openly about mental health issues. If you missed this, then perhaps the charity’s ‘Time to Change’ pledge may be something to look into? This could form part of the overall well-being strategy within your organisation.

Complicated issue

Mental health is a complicated issue. It’s a sensitive topic and often an emotive one for many. Therefore, the approach taken towards it needs to be considered and unhurried. Do nothing about it at your peril, though. More than one-in-five (21%, in fact) respondents to a recent Mind-orchestrated survey stated that they had called in sick to avoid work when asked how workplace stress had affected them. Other scenarios for not being equipped to deal with mental health issues in the workplace are PR disasters, potential tribunals and, most serious and devastating of all, suicide attempts.

Rest assured that there are various ways in which a security business can prepare itself to tackle mental health issues and support its people. The best place to start is with a plan.

Raise awareness. Ensure that employees feel comfortable talking about mental health issues and encourage discussions about stress and anxiety. Also, remember that mental health issues include eating disorders, panic attacks and addiction. These should be incorporated into any written policy. Mental Health Awareness Week commences in May, so why not plan ahead and schedule in some activities or functions that raise awareness

Consider creating a Well-Being Policy. Be aware that simply drawing up a policy will not solve all of the issues involved. It’s a helpful exercise to begin compiling the things which your business currently does in order to support members of staff. It’s also a good way to identify gaps. Furthermore, a policy is a simple and effective way of communicating what you do to clients and members of staff alike. It also gives those employees who are struggling something to which they can refer.

Train your managers. This is vital as managers are likely to be the first people to notice any change in an employee. Managers should be taught to look for signs that an employee is struggling (for example, lack of concentration, an increase in absenteeism, a short temper, being emotional at work or a sudden change in performance level).

Employee Assistance Programmes

Introduce an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). Implementing an EAP is usually a relatively low cost exercise and a great way of offering additional, external support. Very often, an employee may not feel comfortable discussing a personal matter with a colleague. An EAP is a good alternative. Not only do they provide counselling, but they also afford practical advice (for example on matters such as financial debt or divorce which can often contribute towards a person’s depression).

If as a business you already have an EAP in place, determine to make sure that your people know it’s there and that they make good use of it. Very often, schemes are paid for, but are then poorly communicated.

Promote wellness initiatives. As an employer, you have a Duty of Care, meaning that you should take all reasonable steps to ensure the well-being of your employees. Introducing a wellness programme doesn’t have to be time-consuming or expensive. It may be something as simple as providing a free fruit bowl on each of your floors at headquarters.

If your organisation already has a ‘Cycle to Work’ scheme then make sure it’s adequately promoted. Consider corporate gym membership or providing a ‘quiet room’ at work wherein employees can retreat for ten minutes (the room should be a device-free zone). A number of companies have run campaigns designed to encourage staff to take proper breaks at work, while Stylist Magazine is relaunching its ‘Reclaim Your Lunchbreak’ campaign.

On that note, there’s significant evidence to suggest that taking even a 30-minute break away from their desk increases productivity and boosts an employee’s focus. In addition, it works wonders for creativity and, most importantly, mood.

Create and foster a culture of openness, acceptance and support. A business might do this by appointing a wellness representative, ensuring regular communications about health, exercise, support and training or including such detail in client presentations or newsletters.

Another great way of embedding the importance of talking about mental health issues is to align wellness with various existing policies and processes. This could include the annual appraisal or monthly reviews, such that employees understand what’s expected of them, what to look for in others and where to seek help if they should require it.

Make the commitment

In addition to Mind’s ‘Time to Change’ pledge, there are various other commitments your business can undertake to make the workplace a happier and much healthier environment. One of these is the Healthy Workplace Charter. In essence, this is a set of standards that organisations set out to meet in order to receive an official accreditation.

Mental health is different for everyone and, as such, you cannot – and, indeed, should not – approach it as a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. The one thing that many businesses really struggle with is what to do on a practical level if an employee has mental health concerns. There are some key steps to note here.

Manage the employee in the same way as you would any other medical issue. By this, I mean ensure that the process you follow is consistent and in line with the normal company medical capability process. Meeting with the employee is essential to understand what’s going on. You may wish to allow them the right to be accompanied by a friend or a member of their family, even though this isn’t obligatory. It may well make them feel more at ease.

Look at obtaining a medical report (you will need the employee’s consent for doing so). This will enable you to gain valuable insight and advice from a professional. Consider referring the employee to occupational health. Sometimes, it can be the case that someone completely independent and removed from the process is better able to offer support.

Making reasonable adjustments

Be mindful that you may need to make reasonable adjustments for the person concerned. These could include shortened hours, ‘buddying up’, counselling, adjusting workload or encouraging the employee to use some of their annual holiday entitlement for a break away from the business.

Most importantly of all, though, you should remember that, because all mental health issues are different, you must never fall into the trap of making assumptions about a given individual’s condition.

In observing that rule, you will undoubtedly bring about numerous positive changes to your organisation. You should see productivity increases, absenteeism reductions, Public Relations improvements leading to a more competitive edge and, most significantly of all, a happier and more motivated workforce.

Louise McCree MCIPD is Founder of effectivehr


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