Managing mental health in the workplace
Mental health has rightly been hitting the headlines in recent weeks and as employers it’s an issue that we can’t and shouldn’t avoid. Yet according to research published by Unum in partnership with the Mental Health Foundation, just one-third of employees who experienced mental health problems in the last five years felt supported by their line manager.
And when we take a closer look at the workplace, the study reveals that line managers routinely overestimate how well their workplace supports employee mental health and wellbeing. Of the line managers surveyed here, 45% thought that an employee experiencing a mental health problem would be supported to remain in work, with reasonable adjustments being made to their role. But less than one in five workers (19%) who had experienced mental health issues reported they had actually received such support.
Emerging from this study is the importance of training and educating line managers to be more confident in recognising the signs and symptoms that a member of their team might be having problems coping. Only 50% of the line managers surveyed said they felt confident to do this and, interestingly, the study emphasised that increased knowledge of mental health problems improved a line manager’s confidence and ability to support others.
REBA’s – the Reward and Employee Benefits’ Association – own research also confirms this, with around one-third of organisations surveyed by them for their recently published report on ‘The evolution of workplace wellness in the UK’ saying that they provide training for line managers to support and promote employee wellbeing. Of those who offer this line manager development opportunity, the training tends to focus on stress and resilience (75%), absence management (72.9%) and how to have difficult conversations (65.7%).
Too often, it seems, organisations have forgotten some of the support services that they already have in place to support line managers and enable them to access the knowledge and the confidence to help employees who are struggling with their mental health. A recent study conducted by The Work Foundation on behalf of the UK Employee Assistance Professionals Association, for example, reminds us that EAPs are an important resource for managers who are looking for support.
Here, 68% of HR professionals surveyed confirmed their EAP was being used by managers who are asking for support on how to manage workplace issues, with nearly half (44%) asking for management information on employee and organisational interventions.
Of course, one of the key factors that prevents both line managers and employees from talking about mental health – whether it’s around the water cooler or picking the phone up to their EAP helpline – is the stigma that still surrounds it.
Talking recently in Employee Benefits magazine, Poppy Jaman, chief executive officer of the City Mental Health Alliance and Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England comments that this stigma typically arises from fear and ignorance rather than individuals intentionally avoiding the topic of mental health.
“A focus on line management training is the first step to take in addressing mental health stigma and is one of the key recommendations made by Business in the Community in the Mental health at work report, published in October 2016. If someone experiencing a mental health issue has a line manager who is skilled in talking about mental health and knows what support to provide or signpost people to, that employee will feel better supported and is more likely to be able to continue working successfully. Line managers are ideally placed to create a climate that is conducive to the wellbeing of their team and to spot changes in behaviour or performance that could indicate an underlying mental health issue,” she said.
Prompted to take another look at how you’re managing mental health in your workplace and ensure you’re making the most of the services available?
Talk to your IHC consultant to see how we can help you to review your current health and wellbeing portfolio to make sure your line managers and your employees have the right support and protection in place to deal with mental health in the workplace.