One in four people will experience a mental health problem each year, yet the stigma surrounding mental ill health prevents many from opening up about their mental health issues and accessing the support that they need.
Of course, everyone has a bad day from time to time. But, can employers spot the difference between an employee’s normal response to a pressured few weeks and the symptoms of an underlying mental health issue? It’s very important for line managers/employers to learn to recognise the signs of potential mental health problems in order to minimise any disruption and maintain a happy, healthy workforce.
There is no definitive list of indicators for mental health issues like stress, anxiety or depression as each individual reacts differently. However, it’s worth keeping an eye out for certain tell-tale signs that a person isn’t coping well at work (and getting advice from an occupational health professional on what to do next – the Fit for Work advice line can help).
These warning signs could include:
- uncharacteristic behaviour (low mood, argumentative behaviour, violent outbursts);
- dip in performance (e.g. missed deadlines);
- poor time-keeping or unexpected sick leave for vague illnesses;
- lack of interest in colleagues or social withdrawal;
- increase in alcohol consumption or poor diet.
Good people management is certainly a contributor to the prevention of unwanted stress in the workplace. Employers who pay attention to the welfare of their staff are more likely to see returns in maintained productivity and good staff retention. Regular one-to-one communication on neutral ground with employees can pave the way for honest, open dialogue and management of issues before they escalate. During these conversations, it’s important for line managers/employers to:
- ensure there are no interruptions;
- remain focused on topics that are directly related to the welfare of the employee;
- ask open questions (e.g. ‘I was wondering how you were doing?’);
- use neutral language (e.g. ‘How are you feeling today?’);
- always give the employee time to ask and answer questions;
- try to see things from the employee’s perspective;
- make arrangements for a follow-up review;
- be honest and realistic about any support you can put in place and ensure you follow up on any agreed actions;
- always consider confidentiality and agree who (if anybody) might need to be made aware of what you’ve discussed.
Where employees appear to need some support in the workplace, employers should develop a plan in conjunction with employees, including discussion of what adjustments could be made to their role in order to make it easier for them to continue working. Regular reviews will help establish progress and permit any changes to be made to the plan in order to support the person’s recovery. Where necessary, employees should be encouraged to seek external advice (e.g. GP, counselling, etc.).
If an employee has been off work for four weeks or more due to a mental health problem, or any other health issue, employers can refer them to Fit for Work for a free occupational health assessment by visiting fitforwork.org/employer and clicking on ‘refer an employee’. GPs can refer sooner than four weeks if they think the individual is likely to be off sick for four weeks or more by visiting fitforwork.org/general-practitioner and clicking on ‘refer a patient’. For more information on referrals, see this post.
The free Fit for Work advice line (0800 032 6235 – English and 0800 032 6233 – Cymraeg) can advise employers and help them decide what support to offer. Those in Scotland can visit fitforworkscotland.scot or phone 0800 019 2211.