Looking after the mental health of your employees

Man looking thoughtfully outside a window

An optimum level of stress can be motivating and invigorating. With no stress at all there would be no motivation to get out of bed! But too much stress can lead to health problems, which can lead to lower productivity levels, absence and even losing that member of staff. Research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (source) suggests that stress is the number one cause of workplace absence, and poorer performance in areas such as concentration, decision making and customer service from those who struggle to attend. This means that managing people with mental health problems in the workplace is just as important as absence management.

The survey found that only 37% of employers support employees with mental health problems, with only a quarter (25%) saying their employers encouraged employees to talk about their problems.

Recommendations include:

  • Good people management skills from front-line managers and supervisors (coaching, consulting and developing rather than bullying or giving excessive workloads)
  • Spotting early signs (e.g. changes in behaviour) and offering support such as a referral to occupational health professionals, or maybe just adjusting workloads and expectations
  • Offering employees access to support, such as occupational health, debt counselling, substance addiction services and employee assistance programmes – often identifying problems early mean they can be resolved before the employee reaches a crisis
  • Employers should conduct regular risk assessments for stress, ensuring their working environment supports rather than undermines employee resilience

The Health and Safety Executive’s Management Standards provide a useful tool for conducting a stress risk assessment (see here) and you might like to consider becoming a “Mindful Employer” (more about this in the next blog)

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18 thoughts on “Looking after the mental health of your employees

  1. I found it particularly interesting that 63% of men (compared to 53% of women) surveyed admitted taking time off because of poor mental health. And that the overall figure for men and women was much higher in the public sector (74%) than the private sector (52%)…

    I can’t help wondering whether that would have been the reason they actually gave their employers. Do people (especially when suffering poor mental health) really feel confident enough to admit it to ‘the boss’?


    1. Thanks for your comment Linda – I suspect that many people will try to avoid the label of mental ill health when explaining absences to their managers. I was delivering training in a large barristers’ chambers recently where unanimously they stated that to admit to a mental health problem would signify the end of your career in law. Very sad.


  2. Such a pity that people with mental disorders receive so little support. I am thinking of a former colleague who *did* receive a great deal of on-the-job support and contributed a great deal to the company. Everyone knew her issues, but everyone also knew her great talent, and the company benefited greatly from it.


    1. Thanks Mary – I agree, it is a shame, especially as those employers who do understand these issues and respond appropriately nearly always find it a very positive experience for their company as well. The reluctance to engage seems to be largely around fear and ignorance.


  3. I would be interested to know if and if so how the ways in which British employers deal with mental health issues differ from those of, say, US employers. Do you feel that the supposedly British “stiff upper lip” and die-hard reluctance to address mental health issues properly (especially in the workplace) is worse in Britain, or are conditions similar in other developed countries?


    1. That’s a really interesting question, Suze – I don’t know much about other countries, but many of the forums I’m on would suggest that other countries have the same challenges when it comes to raising awareness of all kinds of disabilities, so I suspect some of the issues will occur there too.

      I do remember talk of a culture emerging in USA where people having therapists was the norm rather than the exception, but I’m not sure how much of a stereotype that was.


  4. I wonder how the Daily Mail fair as an employer and looking after the mental health of their staff? After the Samantha Brick debacle, where Sam B was ridiculed by most of the population, an employer who made her vulnerable isn’t one that I would willingly work for.


    1. Thank you Sarah – I can think of a number of other reasons why I might think twice about working for them!

      I think you are right about Samantha Brick. Ill-advised and naive she may be, but did she really know what she was letting herself in for? I’m certain the newspaper did – and they certainly gained much publicity from it. I wonder if they offered Samantha any support through all of that negative attention?


  5. Interesting statistics, Jane. It seems only logical that employers would want to actively help employees with mental health problems, especially given figures such as 60% of employees with poor mental health saying they have difficulty making decisions at work, and 50% saying they are less patient with customers/clients.

    I have two friends who have had mental health problems in the past – one who received really excellent support from their employer, and one who received none whatsoever. It’s a pity there isn’t more consistency and a better understanding of the issues involved and how best to manage them for all concerned.


    1. It does seem very obvious, doesn’t it, Angela? But I think many companies have a macho culture where the strong survive and any kind of mental health issue is seen as weakness. This makes it difficult for people to seek support right at the beginning where it could be addressed long before reaching crisis point.


  6. Very interesting post Jane!

    After watching what happened at my husbands last job working with families from broken homes, abuse etc… the huge amount of stress that the team carried was at times unbearable, which effected many badly.

    There needs to be much better support!


  7. How did I miss this blog post? I think it is brave and I think you are right – there is a time and a place to disclose. I can only imagine one thing worse than a mental health professional sharing with all and sundry their experience of being a patient, forgetting they are there to help patients, not overshare (not that you would for one moment do that) – and that is a mental health nurse with no understanding of what their patients are going through. I think the world needs more mental health nurses who have themselves experienced mental ill health.


    1. good for mental heahtlgo walk a long slow walkdo something you enjoyenjoy watching a fish tankbad for mental healthstaying alonewithdrawing from friends, family, things you would usually enjoythoughts of having no self worth, thinking no one would miss me or that every one would be better off if i was deadgood luck hopes this helps some


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