Normalising Mental Health in The Workplace
How can talking about mental health be normalised in the workplace?
Despite many people living and working with mental health difficulties, there is still a natural reluctance in the workplace to talk about the subject. In fact, 3 in 10 workers say that they feel embarrassed talking about mental health. It’s clear to see that there is a stigma attached to mental health that just doesn’t exist for physical health. Whether it’s down to the media, the generation gap or long-held fixed beliefs, this unconscious bias amongst employers not only reinforces negative stereotypes, it makes those with mental health difficulties reluctant to seek help.
We all have mental health, so how can workplace leaders make it so that it is normalised in the same way physical health is?
The Mental Health Taboo & mental health discrimination in the workplace
According to a 2018 report by the Prince’s Responsible Business Network, 300,000 employees with long-term mental health issues in the UK not only lose their job each year, in 11% of cases where the employee disclosed their mental health difficulties to their line manager or human resources department, they were subject to disciplinary procedures, dismissal or demotion.
Not surprisingly, with only 45% of employees thinking their organisation does a good job of supporting those with mental health difficulties, two out of three people have taken advantage of the relative concealability of mental health difficulties and not disclosed this information to their employer. Furthermore, in a BMC [BioMed Central] Psychiatry article, applicants with physical health conditions were rated more favourably in terms of expected job performance than those with mental health difficulties, even though poor physical health actually increases the risk of mental health difficulties. Given that stress and ill mental health are now two of the three top causes of long-term sickness absence, treating mental health as a burden instead of an essential asset for a business is cause for concern.
Start the Mental Health Conversation
If discrimination and stigma are the key barriers to finding and keeping work for people suffering from mental health difficulties, then through policy, leadership and culture organisations must make it normal for disclosure to bring about effective support and a positive outcome. However, that does require organisations finding effective ways to start normalising mental health in the workplace.
Treat Mental Health as Important as Physical Health
Instead of treating it as an illness to cure, organisations should promote mental health as something to manage like physical health. That’s why, in addition to making a public commitment to mental health and including a relevant statement in their policies, organisations must go beyond planning one-off disjointed initiatives and offer a coherent mental health pathway for employees at all levels, in line with a broader wellbeing strategy.
This means a framework in which any difficulties are treated in the same way as a physical assessment – whether it’s recommending the necessary adjustments having spotted signs of difficulty or putting support into practice while recovery takes place. Only by putting mental health on a par with physical health and treating them equally, can organisations normalise it for employees.
Make Mental Health a Part of Induction & Training
In order that mental health support feels like a normal and everyday process, organisations need to ensure those in charge of workplace wellbeing understand what good mental health is. For while employees are most likely to disclose mental health difficulties to a line manager, only 30% of them are taking part in mental health training. Managers must not only be confident and clear as to the internal mental health protocols and processes but the (ever-changing) legal and regulatory responsibilities of what is a complex and traditionally intimidating subject. Even a half-day mental health workshop can help managers learn how to be approachable, effectively respond to difficulties and offer employees the right amount of support – support that can only come having a proper understanding of the wide spectrum of mental health conditions out there.
Offer Different Types of Mental Health Support
Having an inclusive, supportive and open work culture can also make it easier for employees to share their mental health experiences. From encouraging employees to look out for their fellow colleagues, having a designated mental health space complete with fact boards signposting employees to educational resources and information, to appointing a mental health ambassador, there are so many effective ways that organisations can make individual wellness checks a normal part of the working day, optimising wellbeing, performance and productivity.
After Mental Health Disclosure, Take Proper Action
Encouraging employees to be open and honest about mental health should translate into direct action from the employer. Unfortunately, even though the workplace often mirrors issues in today’s society – with concerns about personal job security and the state of the economy – the most common form of support offered after mental health disclosure is time off from work. This not only falls short of what is required by way of ‘reasonable adjustments’ [as per the Equality Act 2010], it absolves the organisation of any responsibility when 72% of employees experiencing mental health difficulties say it’s work-related.
That’s why organisations must adopt a hands-on approach and a willingness to directly address any triggers caused by the work environment or individual workload. Only when employees feel they can safely disclose information and receive the appropriate support, can they have an open and ongoing conversation around mental health at work, without any stigma attached.
Introduce Modern & Efficient Preventative Measures
Corporate mental health services such as an Employee Assistance Programme (‘EAP’) can also transform the way that organisations provide practical support to those with mental health difficulties. While a long-established workplace intervention tool, programmes that offer an integrated and whole workplace approach can be an important work-life resource for protecting and improving mental health. Not only does a good EAP provide 24/7 counselling and dedicated case managers in times of distress, but the broad range of digital and onsite support and services available also enables employees to act on expert-recommended self-care tips and become active participants in understanding and evaluating their own physical and mental wellbeing. More importantly, in focusing on the whole person, EAPs achieve parity of esteem between physical and mental health, normalising the subject of mental health in the process.
With such available support and resources, there’s never been a better time for organisations to start the conversation.