Mental Health Awareness at Work: 5 Reasons Why
By Dr Valeria Lo Iacono
In recent years, there has been much greater awareness of mental health issues with much greater coverage in media and in society as a whole. We are gradually getting somewhere, for sure, in terms of making people aware that not all issues are visible to see.
Given that we spend so much of our time in the workplace, whether it be in a large company in an office, working from home, or elsewhere, it is also worth considering how these hidden and invisible issues can also impact us as business owners and as managers in the workplace.
If we can improve the working environment for our employees, team members and colleagues, is there any shame in also benefiting directly as a business? The good news is that teaching mental health awareness at work can benefit not just your staff, but also aid your business growth. Let me explain further!
1. Staff Retention and Loyalty is Invaluable as a Business
Have you ever thought about the cost of training new staff and providing onboarding? One of the biggest cost for any company is the cost of first finding new employees and then training them and getting these employees up to scratch in terms of being a fully functioning member of the business. This is costly!
So what does this have to do with mental health awareness?
Studies have shown that staff who are treated well with great understanding and compassion, are disproportionately loyal to their employer. This applies to both visible and invisible disabilities and issues including mental health.
Put another way, a member, one of your staff who might suffer from anxiety, who is treated with respect and understanding regards their anxiety, will generally put great value and emphasis on this very positive treatment by their manager or boss.
For your managers or for yourself as the boss of any business, what this means for you is that you should ensure that you properly understand what mental illness is, such as through a basic mental health awareness course.
This type of course explains the misconceptions, truths, solutions and ways to manage staff in respect of mental health.
2. Building a stronger team within the workplace
In addition to creating a strong and positive working environment for those who suffer anxiety and mental issues, by training managers, we also need colleagues to have a clear understanding of such issues.
Any of us can suffer from anxiety and even the strongest of us can be affected at some point in our working life.
The difficulty for many colleagues though, is knowing how they are meant to react to those who are suffering or need some assistance. Measures that can be taken are often easy and minimal. Staff often just need some basic training on how to work with others who are suffering.
The reasons why people do not speak up when they see others in distress sometimes include:
- The fear of invading someone’s privacy
- Not knowing how to approach the subject
- fear of saying the wrong thing
Colleagues often want to help each other but just lack certainty on how best to help. Furthermore, understanding the right language and way of speaking about mental health can be important. Mental health awareness training for the workplace can help to overcome this.
3. The Ethical and Legal Case
There is an ethical and also a legal requirement in many countries, to provide a certain level of care and attention to one’s employees and staff.
So, as a business owner, even if only to protect yourself as a business, making sure you have some understanding of mental health awareness can be invaluable.
There is, of course, the ethical side of caring about the people you employ and work with and manage and, more than likely, you want to do all you can to help others who are suffering.
4. Helping Staff to Be Confident Enough to Ask for Help
Another issue in the workplace that we often see is that there is a certain stigma (although this is decreasing) regards mental health at work.
There is the stigma, for example, that staff with mental health issues will be off work a lot and will be unproductive.
The truth, in fact, is that these staff tend to be more productive than their colleagues when treated well and are often the best employees. Staff though are often worried about asking for help because, for example, they:
- Fear it will adversely affect their work status (due to discrimination)
- Have a fear of being stigmatized
The solution here is to make your workplace one where it is known the mental health awareness support is something that is taken seriously.
5. Knowing When to Seek Outside Help
Most of us who employ or manage others are not healthcare professionals who are trained as doctors, psychologists or mental health workers. For this reason, there are times when it might be necessary to seek outside help or to advise and guide a colleague to seek outside help.
Managers need and should know how to help colleagues who are suffering from anxiety and other hidden issues, and also know and be trained to spot signs of colleagues in need of help.
An organization can offer support to all staff members by providing an environment that allows staff to thrive.
It is important to make sure that employees are clear about their role, their job description and the goals they need to achieve; they need to feel appreciated and valued; they must feel that they can get support if needed and know where to get it; they must be given opportunities to develop and learn; the amount of work they are required to do cannot be too much nor too little; the environment must be non-threatening with no tolerance for bullying, harassment and discrimination, and staff must receive the adequate tools to be able to do their job.
Then, an organization needs to offer targeted support for those who are struggling. For example, offering counseling services and promoting a culture that encourages dialogue and openness.
Finally, for those who have been diagnosed with an illness, and who may be at some point off work, tailored support is needed. In particular, an employer can offer (and in some countries is obliged to do so by law) what are called reasonable adjustments (UK) or reasonable accommodations (USA).
For those with mental conditions, reasonable adjustments/accommodations can vary on a person by person case. Reasonable means that it has to be practical, affordable for the company, effective and beneficial for both the organization and the employee.
Examples of reasonable adjustments/accommodations for people with mental conditions can be: a phased return to work for the employee who has been off sick (i.e. stating part-time and building up slowly to full-time); flexible working patterns; adjusting the responsibilities and duties of the job and so on; providing a quiet place to work from; giving them a mentor; allowing them time off to see a mental health practitioner; change the employee’s job role; etc.
In all these stages, the role of line managers is vital. A line manager should have regular one-to-one meetings with employees, in order to check how things are going for them. Also, managers can lead by example, promote awareness of mental health in their teams to eradicate stigma and promote a culture of collaboration and teamwork.
Dr Valeria Lo Iacono is the owner of Symonds Training and she offers training course materials including in wellness and mental health. In her spare time, Valeria teaches belly dance and travels around Europe for dance training and to learn new styles of dance. Valeria is originally from Sicily, Italy, but completed a PhD in Cardiff, UK and has taught at the University of Bath and worked as a researcher with Exeter University, UK. Read more about Dr. Valeria at https://symondsresearch.com