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How to Talk About Mental Health at Work: A Guide for Businesses

How to talk about mental health at work

Disclaimer: 

Eden Scott in no way professes to be a mental health expert; however, the topic of employee wellbeing and mental health at work is an important one to our company and many of our clients. Therefore, we believe that it’s an important subject to discuss openly.  
 

 

How to start the conversation about mental health at work

Mental health is just as important as physical health, but it’s often stigmatised and misunderstood – especially in the workplace. This can make it difficult for employees to talk about their mental health struggles, and it can also lead to a number of negative consequences, such as decreased productivity, absenteeism, and an increase in staff turnover. 

That’s why it’s important for organisations to create a culture where employees feel comfortable talking about their mental health. This starts by having open and honest conversations about the issue. Here are a few tips, based on the information from the Mental Health Foundation (UK) and Mind (UK): 
 
  • Start by educating yourself. Learn about the different types of mental health conditions, as well as the signs and symptoms. This will help you better understand what your employees might be going through. 
  • Create a safe space. Let your employees know that you are there for them and that you are committed to supporting them. Encourage them to come to you if they are struggling, and be sure to respect their confidentiality. 
  • Be non-judgmental. It’s important to remember that mental health conditions are real and that they can affect anyone. Avoid making assumptions or labelling your employees. 
  • Offer support. Let your employees know that there are resources available to help them. This can include offering them access to an employee assistance program (EAP), providing them with mental health days, or simply being a listening ear. 
In addition to talking about mental health at work, there are a number of other things that businesses can do to support their employees’ mental health, such as: 
 
  • Creating a healthy work-life balance. Employees need time to relax and recharge outside of work. Encourage them to take breaks, use their annual leave, and set healthy boundaries. 
  • Promoting a culture of respect and inclusion. Employees should feel respected and valued for who they are. Avoid making discriminatory or offensive comments, and be mindful of your language. 
  • Proving opportunities for growth and development. Employees want to feel like they are progressing in their careers. Offer them opportunities to learn new skills and take on new challenges. 
By following these tips, businesses can create a more supportive and inclusive workplace for all employees. This will lead to happier and healthier employees, which will ultimately benefit the business as a whole. 
 

Listen to Our Podcast 

If you’re interested in learning more about mental health at work, or if you need help creating a more supportive workplace for your employees, listen to our podcast. Ewan from Eden Scott interviews Natalie from BeyondHR as they discuss practical advice and tips for businesses of all sizes. 



Listen on Spotify –  https://spoti.fi/3s9mHJj
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Episode Transcript

Ewan Anderson:
Hi, welcome back to the Recruitment and Beyond podcast. Today we're going to talk about mental health in the workplace. So welcome back. Today we are tapping the challenging issue of mental health in the workplace and it seems like it's becoming a more, it's certainly more talked about in terms of a topic. It's addressed by employers and employees more and more often, I think. I'm presuming it's something that's coming onto your desk more and more often nowadays from stats on every size of company, I guess.

Natalie O'Hare:
I think the stats are one in four. So one in four individuals at some point in their life will experience mental health issues. So for the majority of businesses that will be at least one person in their workplace. So maybe that's as well the stats that a sign of what's happening. We've also been through bizarre time with COVID as well. That's probably brought on another abundance of issues for people to deal with as well. Yeah, absolutely. But those stats are quite alarming if you think one in four, really.

Ewan Anderson:
Yeah, I mean I think it's good in a way that we are now addressing the problem. I think that problem's probably existed for a long time and we've talked before about the different working approaches, if it's a dictatorial workplace or if it's a... There's been different approaches over the years where it's never even been thought about and it's never even been addressed and people are at least talking about it. But of course that then means that the stats look quite alarming I suppose. But I wanted to touch on, because I guess we want to try and work out where the balance lies. Where does the responsibility lie? We want that the team to be feeling is included but as healthy and as fit as possible, which isn't always possible, but obviously things like flexible work can have an impact in that. So is it the case that we're maybe seeing a bit of a rise in that because people are working, they may be isolated working from home? Are you finding that in the feedback you're getting?

Natalie O'Hare:
Yeah, everyone's an individual. So some people strive working at home themselves. Other people, absolute nightmare.
Depends on nature of the job as well. They might have no social interaction during the day from their work, nine till five. But actually if they're in an office, they still have the chats, coffee, they can still talk about football or fashion or whatever they want to talk about, even just getting a cup of tea or whatever they're doing. But if they're at home, are they at home alone? And are they just feeling like they're just part of the grind, really? They're having no social interaction, but for some people they strive working at home as well. So it's a difficult one.

Ewan Anderson:
I'm just trying to identify, I suppose, the problems. And I think it's one of these, we've just touched on it there, an increase in communication, talking about it. Is that something that people can do? How do they go about addressing these problems?

Natalie O'Hare:
I would think that people are more open to have these discussions. Maybe not using the words mental health. For some people that's maybe a step too far, isn't it? So maybe in the day that we live in, it might just be a conversation with the boss thinking, "I don't really feel great at the moment." That might be more of the conversation. So it's about line managers recognizing those signs. What does not feeling great really mean? And breaking it down even without saying the words mental health, because mental health can be positive, mental health, as well as negative.
And it can be positive as well. But managers being able to know their team to then recognize the signs, whether someone's going to a be a bit more withdrawn, a wee bit more stressed out, a wee bit more anxious, what is that? But people being able to just say, "I'm not really feeling part of my game today. I don't know what's going on."
Maybe they don't know theirself that's going on. Maybe there's stuff going on at home. Maybe there's too much workload. Maybe there's a variety of reasons, maybe there's been trauma. There could be a lot of different reasons. Men in particular, and we're not being sexist, but the stats show men in particular three times as likely to commit suicide as a female. So for that as well. And COVID was a great example of that. A lot of our clients we're talking to, the men were struggling more because a lot of their social interaction was maybe being down at the pub or meeting friends for sport and all that was gone where maybe some others were able to go a walk with a coffee and they weren't really up for that. They wanted to go and play sport or meet at the pub. So everything changed for them, their working life and their social interaction as well. So men are definitely ones to watch. And maybe not always, but maybe the least likely to shout out about it.

Ewan Anderson:
Yeah, it's definitely something I've struggled with and I know that feeling comfortable enough to be able to talk about it with not just your workmates but your partner or your friends or whatever-

Natalie O'Hare:
Without being judged.

Ewan Anderson:
Without being judged.

Natalie O'Hare:
Without being judged. Yep.

Ewan Anderson:
Without being judged. I think that's the thing. And open lines of communication are so important. And again, it is one of these things where you think, well look, it's obvious but it's not and it's not always the case. And certainly when you're in that situation in your own mind, the last thing you think is, "I'm going to go and have a chat to my boss." But we want that to be the first thing you think about and say, actually you know what, I can go and say. And more often than not, I have no idea what's wrong. I have no idea.

Natalie O'Hare:
Exactly. There might not even be a reason.

Ewan Anderson:
Yeah.

Natalie O'Hare:
There might not be a reason. There are varying reasons. It might not even be a reason. But actually for a line manager to, and sometimes maybe where we come in and help is when a line manager has spotted the signs. That's the first step. And that's quite difficult. So then how do they deal with that? And we see that you're feeling that actually they're not comfortable to have that conversation or they're worried about that it goes wrong or they're worried about, they've got it wrong in their head as well, and I'm going to approach you and it's going to get really defensive and go, what are you talking about? And then it's going to snowball into something that it's not. But it's about understanding the signs, training for those and then having the ability to have those conversations. But as I said, it might not ever be using the words mental health.

Ewan Anderson:
Yeah, that's probably quite an important part. It is how you address it and how you go about talking about it. Which leads us into suppose training and development. Is that a key part of how to deal with this for organizations of all sides? I guess, is letting people understand the signs and are helping them to see the signs and then how to deal with it and how to address it. I mean obviously training is always key, but is that something you-

Natalie O'Hare:
Absolutely. It should be part of every business's agenda. It's certainly as well part of the health and safety executives agenda as well. So when they're doing their unannounced visits, they're also now looking at mental health. So what is an organization doing? What have you got written down that you're showing that you are taking it seriously? Do you have a supporting positive mental health policy? What are you doing at return to work interviews? Are you talking about mental health as well as physical health? Are you treating them both the same? What are you doing? And remember, you as a business have that legal duty under the quality Act to look after, to be responsible to have that duty of care and to also make reasonable adjustments, which could include that flexible working, working from home, shorter days, longer breaks, whatever that might look like.

Ewan Anderson:
Is that right? Okay. So there's a responsibility there in the company to make sure that they are A, recognizing it and B, dealing with it and putting solutions in place, I suppose.

Natalie O'Hare:
Yeah, that's a big task. I get that is a big task and you maybe need to draw in experts in terms of guiding you as to what that looks like. And it's quite a tricky topic because the words are used, but is it just feeling really low and feeling crap throughout the day or is it that you can't function, you can't get out of your bed?
There's such a difference in everything else in between there to the point of someone doesn't want to be here anymore. So there are differences there. And actually don't assume, don't judge because your aunt's, sister's friends have mental health that that's the same for you. Everyone will be different.

Ewan Anderson:
I think that's the key, isn't it? Don't judge and don't immediately assume it's X or Y, it's this or it's that. Because you're right, there's a whole spectrum they're going from, "Okay, I'm just feeling a bit low today." To "I can't get out of my bed." And everything in between. And recognizing it early perhaps and just recognizing if somebody's feeling maybe two or three days just feeling a bit low. But I guess that's harder when you are working from home and it's putting in place some of these things like training development, but things like safe reporting mechanisms that people can just drop a note and feel comfortable doing that. Is that a case?

Natalie O'Hare:
Absolutely. Or peers can, a member of your team can say, "Natalie looks like she's not in our game at the moment. I'm not sure what's wrong. Seeing we noticing a change." And just putting that in there just to flag up and see. And yeah, working from home is different. How do you monitor? But there's no excuses anymore. This is the new era that we're in. This is the new thing. So whether someone's sitting in front of you or sitting in front of a computer screen, picking up the phone, all the things that we've talked about in our previous podcast. So picking up the phone to see how they are. Because you might sound okay on the phone, but looking at you, you might think, "God, he looks like he's not washed his beards." And that could also be a telltale sign of they're not ahead of their game today. They're just not feeling great. So no, absolutely.

Ewan Anderson:
That kind of leads into that supportive culture, doesn't it? That you're the leader of a big organization, a hundred people or whatever it might be. You cannot be on the phone to everybody. So you need a culture, your peers, your friends, just having-

Natalie O'Hare:
Everyone's looking out for each other.

Ewan Anderson:
Everybody's looking for each other. And I suppose that's the business you want to try and build is that you're a community of people working together. And that helps, doesn't it? I suppose.

Natalie O'Hare:
And if it's not internal, it could be external as well. So some people might think, "Oh no, I'm not really for this. I don't want to be judged. I don't want anybody treating me different. I don't want my boss to be phoning me every day where I'm not used to him speaking to him every day." So there could be external, there could be counseling services or quite often the best, if you've got an employee assistance program, get the poster behind the toilet door.
When someone goes to the toilet, they see that poster behind. They don't need to ask anybody. They will not be questioned for asking what they need the number for. They can just go to the bathroom and the poster's there. They can take a quick picture on their phone or they can be somewhere if they're working from home, that they can access remotely to see where the details are without having to go to HR or their line manager because then there's loads of questions asked. So having these things readily available, openly talked about, and it could be linked to debt, for example. So it doesn't have to be about just the person feeling, oh, there might be issues. So having some kind of service that could maybe help an expert. Nobody's really experts, are we? In terms of debt management. Let the experts do that and we're just signposting.
The thing I think businesses worry about is that they have to fix it. And many of the issues that employees have, we can't fix.

Ewan Anderson:
No.

Natalie O'Hare:
And we need them to tell us what they need as well. So we're trying to provide solutions, but actually, how are you feeling? What do you need from us? Is the best question.

Ewan Anderson:
Yeah. That's the thing, isn't it? I never thought about that. But there's this desire to try and fix everything.

Natalie O'Hare:
We'll do this at you and you go away, you work from home. And you might think that's the worst thing that could possibly happen to me right now.

Ewan Anderson:
That's it. And it comes from a good place. You're trying to say, "Look, I want to try and help you, but actually I have no idea how to deal with your debt." Or "I have no idea how to deal with that." So bringing in experts, bringing in people who can help with that, but you cannot do that, I guess, unless you've identified what the problem is. So having that opportunity.
I think personally from my point of view, it's been really good to be able to just find a route to speak to someone without any outside influences. You're not having to announce it to the company, like you say, back of the toilet or online, you know where the information is. You can go and just speak to someone quite confidentially and just deal with that. And it's a really good way of handling that situation because there's not always a way to fix every problem. Companies do not have debt relief teams or they don't have relationship counselors or whatever it might be. And you never know what the challenge is, do you?

Natalie O'Hare:
Absolutely. And sometimes you might not know or the person might want to disclose it, so that's another avenue. What do you then do? And that's okay, but you know what? They've reached out and they've said, "I'm not in my game at the moment. I'm not feeling quite right at the moment." So sometimes you might not have a reason, but remember you've got that duty of care. So you're trying your efforts to help in the system or provide any reasonable adjustments if there is a longstanding long-term, negative impact on day-to-day life as well, where they maybe need some extra help and support.

Ewan Anderson:
Yeah. And it has a broader impact in the business. Obviously there's a personal impact here and you want to make sure all your employees feel good, but there's stats out there now. There's information out there that says a happier workforce is more productive, isn't it? Is that the case?

Natalie O'Hare:
Absolutely. Happy people, happy customers, happy business, happy, absolutely everything. So it cannot be underestimated.

Ewan Anderson:
Yeah, I was just don't know about reading in this and there's talk about there's an increase in productivity. Because people are are there, they're active, they're engaged more, they're not thinking about other things. When you're in that situation, your mind's not necessarily always on work. There's a reduction in absenteeism because people are not taking that time off. I suppose there's a benefit in terms of your brand. People are feeling like they're advocates of your brand, they're dealing with that. So there's lots of additional benefits to having a happier workforce. And as I say, happier team, which is exactly what we're looking for. But there's productivity and bottom line benefits isn't there? In terms of improved innovation and improved productivity.

Natalie O'Hare:
And there's really good stories about companies that have really helped and supported, not known what to do, taken advice and then turned it around and the person is so thankful of that support. Unfortunately, there's lots of stories of the lack of support as well, the company feeling outside their depth, or do you know what? It's not work related, so we don't really need to think about that. Just come to work on with the job and leave your crap at the door, which that's no longer-

Ewan Anderson:
It's just not going to cut it, is it?

Natalie O'Hare:
No. We're talking about that emotionally available line manager. Leave your crap at the door is not going to be that style and that's not going to take us forward in terms of leading and managing now. So I guess it's much more of our responsibility. We're not the be all and end all that we have to fix everything, but we certainly have to be able to point people in the right direction.

Ewan Anderson:
And I guess every business goes through a challenging time. Don't they? Everybody's going to face the peaks and troughs, I suppose. So you want people who can deal with those at that adverse condition. And again, if you're giving people the right training and the right support in these challenging times, it's probably going to benefit your business in the long run as well. Isn't it?

Natalie O'Hare:
Could be resilience training for your employees. It could be resilience training for your line managers. Maybe the job's too much as well. Maybe things are too big and maybe that's causing mental health or like we said, it could be all over the place. It could be anything. Or there could be no reason, as you said.

Ewan Anderson:
So is this something that obviously people having some form of policy there, but what sort of things should companies be putting in place to make sure that addressing-

Natalie O'Hare:
Much more than just policy the policy is a very small fish in the ocean, really, here. Policy is external support, internal support, turn to work processes, training for line managers to spot the signs, looking at the legal duties in terms of reasonable adjustments and what can we do speaking to the likes of occupational health and experts to get some more specifics on what the person's feeling and how we can help support them.
And then the question always comes up, "Well, how do you know that they're okay?" And a lot of businesses will say, "Do you think they're better?" It might be something that actually the person deals with then for the rest of their life. And it's just a reoccurring thing that it comes. So then is it just something that we now need to know and we need to manage and we need to help the individual and they'll have good times and bad times, or is it something that just goes away?

Ewan Anderson:
Yeah, I think that's the thing. I mean certainly, and I'm no expert in this at all, but certainly haven't dealt with it myself. It's never going to go away. But it's something you can learn to deal with and you can learn to manage and then grow from it as well, I suppose, and really come to deal with it. So what's the opposition? Do you get any opposition to this or do you get any kind of knockback that says, look, "I hear what you're saying, but..."

Natalie O'Hare:
We get a lot of opposition. Business is tough, isn't it? People unfortunately might use the term and it might not be that, or they might not be believed.

Ewan Anderson:
Yeah.

Natalie O'Hare:
They genuinely might be going through something or businesses maybe start losing patience as well because they don't know how to deal with it. And there are maybe tight deadlines or clients shouting for stuff or customers shouting for stuff and the top man is off. He's either off sick or he's not on top of his game and that's hard. But remember that duty of care and actually ignoring the situation and hope it'll go away, will not get some help, get some advice in terms of how we try and get them back to work. What support do they need? And actually maybe they're in a space that work is the last thing in their mind because actually it's got that bad that they're actually contemplating other options. So it's choosing not to ignore it and it is in their eyes and it's taken it seriously.

Ewan Anderson:
Take it seriously. Yeah. Yeah. So yeah, as usual, we like to give away a few, some top tips or top three tips. So what are the top three tips that businesses should be thinking about in terms of dealing with mental health?

Natalie O'Hare:
Train your managers, train your business, make sure that people are able to recognize the signs, get that external help. We're not health professionals, we're not claiming to be. We don't ever have to be, but we have to be able to point people and signpost them in the direction. And then just remember you've got that legal detained terms of that duty of care equality act, all the recent adjustments in order to try and support someone.

Ewan Anderson:
That's great. Well listen, we are certainly not mental health professionals. We would always encourage you to go and get professional help and get the support that you need. We were having a discussion about this because it's such a topical area, but thank you much for listening and we look forward to seeing you the next time.

Natalie O'Hare:
Thanks everyone for listening today. Please get in touch if you want to find out more on today's subject.

Ewan Anderson:
And if you enjoyed the podcast, please subscribe and leave us a five star review.

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