Feb 20th 2023

Breaking the silence on mental health in the workplace

We hear “How are you?” every day in the modern workplace, so you’d think we care about how others are feeling.

Or do we? If the respondent isn’t on top form, they might say they’re tired; they have slight cold or a headache. But they probably won’t cite anxiety, depression or another mental condition to explain why they’re not living their best life.

Maybe this is because physical problems are, by and large, quantifiable and therefore easier to understand. A cold probably isn’t serious, we know how long it lasts and where to find the paracetamol. The mind, on the other hand, is shrouded in mystery.

“Knowledge about how the brain works remains low,” says Paula Allen, senior VP at LifeWorks. “We have assumptions about mental health and these show up more significantly at work”. The bottom line is that we don’t feel at ease discussing how we’re really feeling inside.

Silence also stems from the idea of marginalisation: over half of those polled in a McKinsey survey said they feared being stigmatised if co-workers found out about their mental health issues, while recent MHR data suggest almost half of UK workers would avoid talking about emotional wellbeing at work for fear of their career prospects taking a hit.

Today, one in six of UK professionals are going through these problems, with women in full-time employment almost twice as likely to suffer as men, the UK’s Mental Health Organisation says.

Turning a corner

Our shared experiences through the pandemic increased personal awareness of these issues, but they also showed employers how “conditions in the work environment can exacerbate or prevent mental health challenges”, notes Leslie Hammer PhD of Oregon Health and Science University.

Staff expectations have shifted in kind, with more than 80% of workers saying that organisational support for mental health would influence their decision in future job hunts.

The stats point to the glaring business case: poor psychological welfare is hugely disruptive; it impacts time management, reduces focus and undermines creativity; it sends absenteeism up, while morale and productivity nose-dive, all contributing to a shortcoming that costs British enterprises up to £56bn each year (Deloitte).

We can’t afford to let the conversation go quiet on mental health. Below are five ways we can smash the stigma:

  • C-Suite engagement

Initiatives have to start at the top. as reflected by the results of a Deloitte report in which 95% of the C-suite agreed that “executives should be responsible for employees’ wellbeing.”

This starts by defining executive ambition, designing a personal learning strategy for all staff, and understanding workforce drivers that promote mental health.

Ultimately, businesses must ensure people know that talking about mental health leads to empathy and support, not prejudice.

  • Manager participation

It might not be the image that those in charge want to project, but managers who can “be open and vulnerable can increase the level of psychological safety on their teams, without jeopardising their reputations as competent.”

Academic studies find psychological safety in companies improves when chiefs go beyond simply seeking performance feedback and share their own developmental areas.

  • Open dialogues

If a team member is struggling, they might not feel able to air problems themselves. Leaders should be ready to take the initiative in a positive and encouraging manner.

More broadly, allowing employees to share experiences and coping strategies on mental wellbeing will help to remove stigma while creating a welcoming tone that promotes communication.

  • Tailored support

Making changes to promote mental wellbeing are typically straightforward, inexpensive and easy to implement. Bosses should consider each person’s unique requirements and address them creatively.

Establish quiet work areas or explore working from home options to help alleviate pressure on individuals. Longer-term, people should be given the chance to review their achievements – a habit that builds self-esteem and develops understanding of causes of poor mental health.

  • Training

After a few years of global instability for us all, it makes sense to take a planned, skills-based approach to mental health strategy.

Mind offer affordable pathways through which to train both managers and employees on dealing with mental health issues at work, and supporting those in need of help.

Problems shared

In recent times, societies around the world have pulled together and found solutions to complex challenges, all within a short period.

This is a unique opportunity to apply what we’ve learnt, turn up the volume on the mental health conversation and create supportive workplace cultures that enable us all to work to our best.

At HR Spectrum, we know that through collaboration with individuals and companies who you know and trust, you can achieve smoother, more effective workflows and lasting success. 

To find out more about the fantastic opportunities available through HR Spectrum, contact us today

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