Unlike a few years ago mental health is no longer seen as a taboo or an issue that is avoided. It has got celebrities and high-profile companies talking about the importance of discussing it. No one has to suffer in silence and one place where employees are being encouraged to be open about their mental health concerns is in the workplace.
While some companies are leading by example, there are many who are still catching up. In our next series on corporate wellness our panelists tell us how to get the conversation started between employer and employee.
When discussing mental wellbeing, emotional intelligence can help individuals empathise with those suffering and help them navigate through any emotional discussions. On an individual level, showing empathy can help employees feel more motivated to do their best at the job, but at a broader level, this devotion to the mental wellbeing of the staff will have far-reaching effects. For one, employees will feel more open to discussing problems with their managers – whether that be professional or personal. Managers will also be able to form a stronger bond with their employees and understand when their mental state is affecting their work and how to navigate around that barrier.
Jill King, Director of International Markets at VirginPulse.
Improving conversations about emotional wellbeing in the workplace is a priority as people still don’t feel able to open up to their employer in fear it will negatively impact their career, despite 1 in 4 of us experiencing a mental health issue. The responsibility lies with all of us, we all have emotional wellbeing needs that vary according to what’s going on around us. An open conversation needs to be had in workplaces, raising awareness about mental health and what’s on offer via public and private communication channels. There also needs to be a change in rhetoric away from “them” to “us” to avoid alienation and stigma.
Alaana Linney, Director of Business Development at Nuffield Health.
The culture of a company comes from the top and filters down. The more that senior leaders talk and discuss these issues the more the employees will. There are however several other challenges businesses face. Geography and demographic variables. An older workforce will be less likely to discuss mental health issues compared to a workforce made up of millennials and generation z workers. And geography plays a part. Encouraging this open dialogue is easier in one central office compared to a network of field or home workers. Effective and consistent one to ones, which allow individuals to open up in a private and safe environment will play a part in this. If we are to truly see a shift change it must come from the culture of the company, with the directors and senior leader championing this.
Joe Gaunt, CEO of Hero Wellbeing.
A strong wellbeing strategy supports mental health just as much as physical health, and a culture of openness starts from the top. Start by implementing strong foundational policies which support and protect workers’ mental health, then regularly communicate your mental health strategy to raise awareness. Next, look at barriers to disclosure, perceived or actual. Employees may be fearful of discrimination or unaware of the resources and support you can provide. By understanding what barriers exist, you can work to correct possible issues or alleviate concerns. Disclosure is important because it can enable people to find their way to calmer times without the need for health service involvement.
Liz Walker, HR Director, Unum UK.
An important consideration is who should employees be talking to about mental health. Employers often expect employees to talk to them about the topic, but the stigma of mental health and concerns on what it may mean to professional development often creates barriers to dialog. Employers committed to improving mental well-being need to provide diverse resources and outlets (external or internal) for employees to interact with. Everyone in unique, and not everyone will feel comfortable talking with the same kind of resource. Providing multiple resources will facilitate dialog on the topic and show employees the culture supports their needs.
Nick Patel, CEO of Wellable.
Sadly, with over 1 in 4 employees experiencing a mental health problem each year, the ability to support and care for our employee’s mental wellbeing has never been more important. But even with the increased awareness it doesn’t always make it easy to discuss in the work environment. To help support employees, you have to create a truly open and honest culture, arm your leaders and managers within the business with the tools to help to create an environment where it is “ok” to talk about mental health in the same way you can discuss physical health. This has to be embedded into your culture, mission and values and lived and breathed by all employees throughout the entire business.
Lucy Tallick, Head of Wellbeing at Reward Gateway.
First and foremost it’s about creating a culture where it’s okay to talk and be open about mental health conditions. Introducing awareness raising and anti-stigma activities are a great way to do this. Then it’s about ensuring all employees know what support is on offer and who they can talk to – perhaps training Mental Health First Aiders and ensuring they’re known and visible to staff. Openness and honesty from the leadership team is essential for breaking down barriers and starting people talking.
Ruth Tongue, Co-founder of Elevate.
Organisations should think about proactively promoting wellbeing and indicating what resources are available. This signals to employees that it is seen as important and that wellbeing is taken seriously. The fact that there is support available will naturally encourage employees to begin to speak up. It is important that managers have a basic understanding of mental health, are trained to offer support without judgement. Employees need to trust management that they will provide guidance or at a minimum listen to issues. Managers should not be put in a position where they are offering treatment options, rather they should have information that points them towards experts whilst offering emotional support.
Shaun Bradley, Director of People at Perkbox.
Its all about trust. Your team need to trust that you will be there for them, uncritically and without judgement whatever they tell you. If you are having a conversation with the wider team or a training session then it can be helpful not to focus on the term “mental health”. It’s a phrase likely to summon up images of severe psychosis, depression, anxiety or addiction. Benchmarked against these conditions people often overestimate their own levels of resilience and underestimate the impact their stress and fatigue have on their lives and those around them. Talking in terms of mental wellbeing along with simple things like creating a culture where relaxation, ‘me time” and dedicated moments of stillness are the norm are effective ways of empowering your people to think about and manage their mental wellbeing.
Sam Fromson, Co-founder of Yulife.
We all go see a doctor when we feel sick, right? But when we’re feeling stressed, anxious, or down, it’s a lot tougher to talk about or seek help for our mental health. At Fitspot, we absolutely support employees taking care of their mental wellness. As part of our wellness plans, we offer many corporate stress-relief programs, such as meditation sessions, yoga classes, and chair massages, all of which can help employees reduce stress at work. We recently wrote a blog post on the importance of being mindful of your mental health, and how to address it at work if you feel overwhelmed. We suggest that people take time for self-care—exercise, sleep, relaxation, whatever makes you feel good. Of course, talking about mental health issues at work is a personal decision. But if any issues begin to affect your job performance, don’t be afraid to seek professional help. To offset the cost, see if your company offers EAP assistance through your health insurance.
Sammy Courtright, founder and CEO of Fitspot Wellness.