HRBPTT – Mental Health First Aid – De-stigmatising ‘Mental Health’ in the Workplace

Mental health These are the thoughts and takeaways from the latest HR Business Partner Think Tank (HRPTT) held on Thursday 12th June 2014 hosted by Telefonica’s , Kerry Scott (HR Consultant) titled ‘Opening up about Mental Health Wellbeing’.

The following summary has been prepared to reflect a segment of the discussion held amongst senior HR professionals from leading national and international businesses. Specific company details, experiences and examples have been omitted from this summary as all discussions are held under ‘Chatham House Rules’.

Mental health is a big part of today’s society, with increasing stressors in life affecting everyone in one way or another. This, of course, leads into our work life. The question is – what can employers do to limit the affect on the business, and more importantly, on employees’ work life? With mental health issues costing UK businesses £70 billion a year, prevention and management methods are now of the utmost importance.

Mental Health- Background

Mental health has been a taboo subject for many years across the globe – carrying heavy connotations. It used to be (and still is in some businesses) a subject people would avoid talking about. In many cases if an employee mentioned they were ‘stressed’, they were merely managed out of the business.  However, in today’s world there is a lot more being done to support those with a mental health illness. More businesses are now recognising the increasing benefits of supporting employees who are suffering with a mental health condition, should that be stress or bipolar depression. There is a clear direct correlation between the wellbeing of employees and the productivity of a business, but one need not be at the cost of another. There are now many government funded tools available for employers to support their staff and organisation.

Mental Health Stigma Should we manage it?

Absolutely!!! Ignorance is no excuse these days for a lack of awareness of how your work force feel. Any manager/team leader/heard of or director should be aware of their employees’ wellbeing and be enabled and supported to have necessary conversations. If an individual’s performance is waning below their norm – the initial questions should be why is this and what can the business to do to improve the situation. NOT performance management or a ‘telling off’.

Importance of Communication and Awareness

Encouraging a normal conversation is the first step. ‘How are you?’ needs to be a frequent question in team management, and it needs to be recognised that ‘fine’ is not an emotion. The employee needs to feel the question is heart-felt and not just a step in a process. Displaying an open attitude across the organisation is imperative and should come from the top. If senior stakeholders show awareness of the importance of considering effects of mental health, management will be more likely to follow suit. A non-confrontational ‘chat’ is less likely to be viewed by nervous or sceptical employees as an assessment or performance management, so they are more inclined to open up. It is important to empower both employee and employer for responsibility of managing wellbeing in the work force. The employer can only support the employee, should they be honest and open about their situation. A business can be expected to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to support employees, if the employee is honest and discloses any issues. A big challenge, for the advance of mental health management, is ensuring the top of the organisation see the importance of it. The task is for HR, to demonstrate the costs and benefits of various mental health management programmes and show why they are important. It is crucial that mental health management is communicated throughout the whole team to ensure there is no perception of unfair workload.  Communication around employees who receive support to manage their mental health condition is imperative.  If the team is aware of an individual’s situation, it may improve the cohesiveness of the team, if approached in the right way. External support The charity, MIND, have connections with businesses throughout Essex and London who are looking to support their workforce through life’s challenges. They believe there are five stages to well being:

  • Keep connected
  • Give
  • Learn
  • Keep active
  • Awareness

They advocate the use of ‘Nelly’ – a facility that an organisation can utilise which pops up on employees screens once a day with questions that the business can set. It can help a business understand more about their employees and focus their corporate social responsibility policy. Many employers have developed ‘stress toolkits’ that employers can utilise at any point, via their intranet or via HR. Although HR is NOT qualified to identify or diagnose any mental health conditions, they can engage with employees and suggest they seek support as necessary. The charity ‘Time to Change’ is supporting a lot of businesses in the South East of England, who aim to support their employees through mental health conditions.  The argument could be viewed from a prevention is better than cure’ perspective, to encourage businesses to recognise investing in support features for employees to take advantage of, is a positive step for their talent retention.

Internal Support

Occupational health can play a big part in this programme – it feeds the internal network with appropriate advice on how to direct managerial support from senior thought leaders. This will then encourage efficient leadership and in turn, encourage talent retention. Managers need to be empowered from above to be empathetic, but not expected to understand or be able to offer medical support to team members who are suffering. It should be treated as a form of support, which then should be fed back to the company, who in then in turn can collaboratively support the employee. If it is decided the best steps for an employee is to take time away from the business, due to a mental health condition, appropriate steps should be taken to maintain communication with the employee to ensure they feel supported. On some occasions, being away from the business and their team can be detrimental to the employee’s recovery, therefore reasonable adjustments can be made to support them in the business. E.g. lessen their workload, reduced working hours.

Commercial implications

The implications of mental health in the work place is huge. Stress leave is one of the most common ailments for ‘sick leave’ and has massive commercial impact. Therefore it is essential to ensure there is a mental health programme in place. Change is a constant consideration for all businesses in today’s world. Businesses require open, transparent processes to ensure their staff’s wellbeing is considered with every business change. If there are redundancies approaching, how can the business support the leavers? Suggestions are to have external agencies coming in for workshops on CV design, career fairs or even counselling. Also, how do they ensure the ‘survivors’ are supported and feel appreciated?

Best Practice

One of the businesses attending the Think Tank was light-years ahead in how they manage ‘mental health’ and wellbeing of their employees. Their ‘Global wellbeing’ scheme has encouraged managers across their business, to speak to their team/office/region about anything and everything that is happening in their life. They have stepped away from the ‘silent culture’ and are now moving towards an increasingly open environment where employees can speak to their managers and receive help to combat their issues. One thing the company reconsidered was their ‘flexible working’ scheme. It now enables employees to access their work life anywhere in the world, at any point in time. This has benefits for those employees who are on the road or are contracted to work from home. In order to make sure this is beneficial for both staff and the business employees are ‘assessed’ to ensure the flexible working scheme is appropriate for each individual who requests it. Another of the businesses is operating a ‘Talk to the Expert’ webinar where employees can log in anonymously and discuss anything they wish, without any risk of ‘pressure’ from their employer. This has proven very useful for the workforce to start using the webinar to ‘download’, which has then led on to more than 50% discussing their stressors with their employer afterwards. Sharing these instances across the company, have proven to encourage other team members to do the same. Some organisations have gone a step further and organised a global ‘well being week’ across their organisation – this covers everything, including mental health conditions.

Summary – Critical Success Factors

  • Senior stakeholders must be onboard and be proud to share their personal experiences
  • Managers should feel able to speak to their teams
  • Support should be delivered with an empathetic approach
  • Empower employees to talk about their situation, without fear of loosing their job
  • ‘Normalise’ the conversations
  • Communication is everything
  • Utilise and broadcast your internal toolkits to your staff
  • Share company visions and values – make wellbeing part of the company vision
  • Utilise external support networks MIND & Time to Change
Katy Glenn

Written by , Senior Consultant

Katy graduated in 2009 with a BSc in Equine Sport Science, from here she followed her passions into grooming for the local hunt and then into equine nutrition. Katy went on to start her recruitment career in Michael Page, recruiting interim senior finance professionals. Despite being a country girl, she made the jump into the big smoke and recruited into the medical sector in London. In May 2014, she came to meet Jeremy at Oasis HR and the rest is history! Katy sits under Andy White on the permanent team, specialising in the FMCG, retail and hospitality sectors. When she isn’t in the saddle, Katy is visiting family in the West Country and travelling the Globe.

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