In recent years, high profile speakers such as Prince Harry and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, plus campaigns such as World Mental Health Day, have helped to raise awareness and educate people on the subject of mental health.
Yet despite the progress, there is still a long way to go to tackle mental health issues in the workplace. We may be more comfortable talking about mental health from an objective point of view, but we struggle to open up about our own experiences. Many still feel that it’s best to hide their mental health issues, put on a brave face, and suffer in silence.
Why is this the case? Because we fear negative repercussions. We are concerned that people will see it as a sign of weakness. We worry that it will affect our reputation or our career prospects. And in some ways, we are right to think this way – according to Business in the Community’s Mental Health at Work Report 2017, 15% of employees who disclosed a mental health issue faced disciplinary procedures, demotion or dismissal. This result only serves to compound the situation.
Conditions such as anxiety and depression are widespread, yet we rarely hear people talking about their own struggles. According to mental health charity Mind, one in four people experience a mental health illness in any given year. Chances are you work with people who are struggling, most likely in silence.
So how do we shift attitudes towards mental health and create an environment where people can discuss issues openly, without fear of judgement or discrimination?
Culture and leadership
It is the responsibility of the organisation not only to promote good mental health, but to create an environment where employees feel able to discuss such issues openly with their managers. This involves more than just a set of rules or policies; it requires a complete cultural change to the way we perceive, and deal with, mental health issues.
It’s all well and good reading articles about mental health awareness, but employees need to hear it from the very top. It’s time business owners, leaders and CEOs spoke up about mental health in the workplace. This will help turn mental health from a taboo issue into something we all feel comfortable discussing.
Education and awareness
We receive training on policies, procedures and software, but very rarely about how to deal with human issues such as mental health. How can we expect HR professionals and managers to handle mental health appropriately if they have no guidance?
Mental health is a complex issue, and ignorance and misunderstandings only serve to make things worse. Being depressed is not the same as having a bad day, or doing a job that you don’t like – a day only lasts twenty-four hours, and you can change your job whenever you want. Likewise, there is a difference between feeling nervous about an interview and suffering from constant, crippling anxiety.
It can be very difficult for those who have not suffered from mental health issues to understand those that do. For this reason, all employees should receive some kind of mental health awareness training. This will ultimately result in a more understanding and empathetic workplace.
To suggest that there’s a quick fix for conditions such as depression and anxiety is patronising to those suffering, but technology does have a key role to play in creating an environment where people can discuss issues openly and honestly.
Take check-ins, for example. The idea here is that managers and employees get together regularly to discuss not only progress, performance and goals, but also their happiness and wellbeing.
Check-ins encourage and nurture a human relationship between manager and employee, where both parties meet as equal partners to discuss ways to make work more enjoyable and productive. Part of this involves raising any issues that the employee may be experiencing both inside and outside of work – such as those around mental health – safe in the knowledge that there can only be positive outcomes.
People First provides employees with a way to track their performance, mood and feelings. Each day they receive a prompt from their personal digital assistant, the People First Chatbot, asking them how the day went. This process of self-reflection can be an eye-opener for the employee, who gets into the habit of processing their thoughts around work. This helps them understand the connection between the way they work and the way they feel.
While many people have underlying mental health conditions regardless of their job, work can be responsible for aggravating or even causing mental health issues – according to the Business in the Community report mentioned earlier, 60% of employees have experienced mental health issues in the past year due to work.
Stress, anxiety, and depression can be triggered by a range of different factors depending on the individual. Where I may find large meetings or presentations stressful, someone else might find working alone equally difficult. Taking a flexible, personalised approach to work is the only way to accommodate the diverse group of individuals that is your workforce.
When the wellbeing of your staff is at stake, flexibility can no longer be considered a perk, but rather a necessity. Why would we force an employee to endure conditions that could potentially aggravate a mental health condition? Employees are people; their health and wellbeing are paramount. In the long-term, your business will only benefit from this approach as well.