How to Support the Mental Health of your Employees

by Mike McDonagh, Director at Hays Ireland

Ireland has one of the highest rates of mental illness in Europe, according to a new report co-produced by the European Commission. As a clearly extremely prevalent national issue, it should be considered part of an employer’s ethical responsibility to provide workplace guidance and support to anyone experiencing issues with their mental health and wellbeing.

So what can organisations do to provide support to those suffering with a mental health condition?

1. Help employees to achieve a better work-life balance

Balancing work with a demanding or complicated personal life can often result in employees feeling overwhelmed or unable to cope. Promoting a positive balance by making flexible working options available – such as remote working – shows a commitment to helping employee wellbeing, particularly if senior leaders take advantage of these practices when they are available. Your workforce needs to know that the use of these is encouraged and they won’t be judged for doing so.

2. Ensure your organisational culture is accepting and inclusive

From your very first point of contact with a candidate, you should make it clear that any mental health issue they wish to discuss will always be treated with respect, understanding and confidentiality. Many professionals believe there is still a stigma around mental health issues, and the worry that speaking up will negatively impact their career can often stop them from doing so. This change of culture within your organisation may take a while to take effect, but as the topic becomes more common staff will start to feel safer being open about how they are feeling, meaning issues can be spotted much more quickly and support provided earlier.

3. Lead from the top

One of the responsibilities of being a senior leader is to champion good mental health in the workplace. Demonstrating a commitment to creating a culture that is both understanding and supportive can encourage employees to be more open about mental health issues at work, and something as simple as a blog or internal communications article from the CEO can help set the tone for the rest of the organisation.

4. Provide training to middle managers

Middle managers are best placed to spot potential issues with mental health as they will be having the most frequent, in depth conversations with individual employees about how they are managing their workloads and whether they need additional support. Help your line managers by providing access to training programmes which allow them to recognise the early signs of a mental health condition. Make sure to do an evaluation with them afterwards as to how they found the training and whether they understand how to apply it as part of their day to day responsibilities. Take care not to apply too much pressure – they cannot be expected to become overnight mental health experts, but can definitely flag when they think there is an issue and highlight the support available to the employee.

5. Create tailored wellbeing support plans

Sometimes, preventative measures are just not enough and tailored, practical support is needed. If an employee discloses that they are suffering from a mental health issue, then developing an action plan can make it easier for them to manage their workload and their condition. These could be simple things, for example offering flexible working, introducing mentoring or ‘buddy up’ schemes, or doing regular evaluations of their workload to ensure they are coping.

6. Build bridges inside and outside work

Not all work conversations need to be about work. Taking the time to ask someone how their day is going, sharing a joke or having a quick chat in the kitchen could make a huge difference to how someone is feeling, and creates yet more spaces for employees to raise issues that may be affecting them. If you do have concerns about someone but think that the workspace itself is inhibiting the employee from speaking honestly, then suggest a chat at a nearby coffee shop.

7. Provide clear communication channels for your employees

Feeling that our work is valued can make the world of difference to our overall feelings of wellbeing, and a crucial element of a mentally healthy workplace culture is creating an environment where employees feel their voice is being heard, on all issues. This can be achieved by actively soliciting feedback and ideas at all levels through organisation wide surveys, ensuring regular 1:1 meetings with line managers or organising regular round table discussion groups where employees of different levels come together to discuss a range of workplace ideas.

8. …but don’t just listen, take action

It is crucially important not just to provide forums for your employees to talk, but to listen and take action. Showcasing the ideas that have been actioned and are successful will show that yours truly is an organisation that is investing in their workforce, and is committed to improving the morale, self worth and, consequently, productivity of their employees. Prioritising mental health as part of your organisation’s wellbeing initiatives should not just be a consideration for the socially-conscious employer, but the business-conscious one too.