Mental ill-health in the workplace is a growing issue, with Office for National Statistics figures stating that one-in-six working age adults experience depression, anxiety or stress-related issues at any one time. Now, Mental Health First Aid England’s Poppy Jaman is calling on managers in the security sector to support the mental well-being of their staff.
Ten million people experience a mental health issue each year in the UK, while work-related mental ill-health costs UK employers in the region of £26 billion on an annual basis due to lost working days, staff turnover and lower productivity. Even though we’re now talking far more about mental health in the public domain, the stigma still remains, and particularly so in the workplace.
Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is the mental health equivalent of a physical First Aid course and, for its part, MHFA England is leading on the goal of increasing the number of Mental Health First Aiders by providing participants with the skills and confidence to recognise the signs and symptoms of common mental health issues and effectively guide individuals in the direction of the right support.
Despite all the good work that’s being done to normalise conversations around mental health, the aforementioned stigma does still exist, which makes it hard for people to feel that they can talk openly about their mental well-being in the workplace. It’s vital, then, that more is done to encourage discussions about mental health between colleagues and also between staff and their managers. We all have mental health just as we have physical health, but it can seem more difficult to spot the signs of mental ill-health.
In February 2015, Business in the Community launched a report around mental health in the workplace and MHFA training was one of two key recommendations made to businesses. MHFA England works with employers who are taking a ‘whole organisation’ approach towards mental health, including training staff in MHFA. Today, businesses across a range of sectors are educating their staff in MHFA and raising awareness of mental health in the workplace.
Investing in mental health
Why should the security and risk management sector consider investing in employee mental health? For one thing, it allows organisations to retain skills through a reduction in staff turnover. Almost a third (31%) of staff members questioned for a MetLife survey said that they would consider leaving their current role within the next 12 months if stress levels in their organisation didn’t improve.
Companies can also cut sickness absence. Mental health issues such as stress, depression or anxiety account for almost 70 million days lost to sickness each year, the most of any health condition. According to the Department of Health, sickness absenteeism costs the UK economy somewhere between £70 billion and £100 billion per annum. In parallel, presenteeism can be reduced. Mind, the mental health charity, states that the annual cost of mental health-related presenteeism (people coming to work and underperforming due to ill-health) is £15.1 billion or £605 per employee here in the UK.
Focusing on the mental health of employees also demonstrates a commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility. Work-related mental ill-health costs UK employers £26 billion every year through lost working days, staff turnover and lower productivity. A detailed BUPA study conducted in 2014 revealed that many business leaders still admit to prejudice against people with mental health issues in their organisation.
Organisations can decrease the likelihood of grievance and discrimination claims from unhappy staff. Grievances – ie concerns, problems or complaints that employees raise with their employers – are on the rise.
Understanding the law
Today’s companies can ensure compliance with legislation by understanding the law. If a mental health issue has adverse effects on someone’s ability to perform day-to-day tasks, this is considered a disability protected under the Equality Act 2010. Employers have a duty not to discriminate and to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace.
It’s vitally important to ensure a healthier workplace. On average, employees take seven days off work each year for health reasons. It’s estimated that mental health issues account for 40% of this figure, yet up to 90% of current employees feel unable to be honest about this being the reason for their absence.
In terms of improving staff morale, 60% of employees say they’d feel more motivated and more likely to recommend their organisation as a good place to work if their employer took decisive and proactive measures to support mental health and well-being.
A determined focus on this issue can actively increase engagement and commitment among staff. “Supporting mental health in the workplace isn’t just a corporate responsibility,” explained Dr Justin Varney, national lead for adult health and well-being at Public Health England. “Staff who have positive mental health are more productive, while businesses that promote a progressive approach towards mental health can see a significant impact on business performance. It’s about good business, too.”
Last, but by no means least, there’s a strong link between levels of staff well-being and motivation and performance. Taking a positive and proactive approach towards mental health in the workplace can help you grow your staff and your organisation.
World Mental Health Day
World Mental Health Day 2016 ran on Monday 10 October, the theme for the event being ‘psychological and mental health First Aid for all’. The basic premise was to make MHFA a global priority on a par with physical First Aid.
Across the world in 24 countries, no less than one million people have been trained in MHFA skills. MHFA England has instructed almost 150,000 of these individuals, its mission being to train one-in-ten of the population.
To help tackle the stigma around mental health, we called on everyone to ‘Take 10 Together’ and have a ten-minute chat with an employee, colleague or friend to start a conversation about mental health and find out more about MHFA. It might seem a little daunting to start a conversation about this subject, but it’s important to remember you don’t have to be an expert.
There are some practical tips if you would like to start a conversation on the topic in your own workplace. First of all, choose a setting. Make a cup of tea or coffee or grab a cup of water. Whichever you choose, it’s a great way to ask someone a quick ‘How are you?’ and see if they would like a private meeting.
Give yourself plenty of time so that you don’t appear to be in a hurry. Ten minutes may be enough, but if you need longer then take the time. You don’t want to be disturbed so turn your phone off or set it to silent. Remember that meeting outside of the workplace in a neutral space might feel less intimidating.
Keep the chat positive and supportive, exploring the issues and how you may be able to help. Keep your body language open and non-confrontational. Be empathetic and take your ‘interviewee’ seriously. Be certain not to offer glib advice such as “Pull yourself together” or “Cheer up”. Also, it’s important to take into account cultural differences in communication styles such as how much eye contact is deemed appropriate.
Useful questions to ask
Salient questions to ask will include: “How are you feeling at the moment?”, “How long have you felt like this – is it an ongoing issue?”, “Who do you feel you can turn to for support?”, “Are there any work-related factors which are contributing towards how you’re feeling?” and “Is there anything we can do as your employer to help?”
Give the person your full focus and listen without interrupting. Listen to their words and tone of voice and observe body language, all of which will give clues as to how they’re feeling.
Once you’ve started the conversation, make sure you keep it going. Follow up with the individual concerned and ask them how they’re doing. Reassure them that your door is always open, and really mean it when you say so. It’s particularly essential to keep in touch with an employee who’s off sick.
In addition, offer reassurances that there are lots of sources of support, with some of them possibly being available via the Human Resources or Occupational Health Department, employee-assisted programmes or by way of on-site counselling.
If you work in a company with limited support services, it’s also appropriate to encourage the person to visit their GP for guidance around accessing the excellent NHS-funded programme that runs under the banner ‘Improving Access to Psychological Therapies’.
Poppy Jaman is CEO of Mental Health First Aid England
*For more guidance around how to approach and respond to a colleague who’s experiencing a mental health issue download the free Line Managers Resource at www.mhfaengland.org/ workplace/line-managers-resource/
**To find out how employers can support the well-being of their staff and demonstrate their commitment to World Mental Health Day, visit www.mhfaengland.org and download the free MHFA England toolkit entitled ‘Take 10 Together’