One of the most difficult conversations to have in the workplace is one about someone’s mental health. It can be awkward, embarrassing, uncertain and unpredictable. The good news is, if a member of staff is suffering with mental ill health, making adjustments for your staff can be a relatively easy procedure, if the requirements are reasonable. Identify conditions that may be negatively affecting a staff member’s mental health and try to make changes where necessary. But if a member of staff’s mental health issues are affecting the way they work, or the rest of the team, and any adjustments haven’t helped, further action may be needed. If a staff member’s mental ill health means they can no longer work for you in the capacity required, they may need to be signed off work. 

If a staff member becomes distressed in your presence, it’s imperative you stay calm if you can. Reassure your staff member and listen to them. Ideally, move to somewhere private so you can both have the time and space to talk and listen. Ask if they would like you to contact someone on their behalf and reassure them that they are supported. Respect their wishes: do they want to carry on working? Or would they like to take a break or even return home? 

The Causes Of Mental Health Stresses At Work

Mental ill health may be connected to something at work or outside of work. Pressures at work can cause staff to feel stressed and overwhelmed. It’s important to remember that one person’s pressure may be manageable whereas to another person that same amount of pressure may be overwhelming for them. Things that may contribute to feelings of pressure at work include:

  • Demands: do they have targets they are struggling to meet?
  • Control: are they struggling to cope with how much or little control they have over their role or part of their role?
  • Skills: do they have the skills needed to carry out their role?
  • Relationships: are there negative relationships within the team or workforce? Or lack of support from others?
  • Uncertainty: Are there redundancies taking place or is the team being restructured?

How To Support Staff With Mental Health Related Sickness

Whether your staff member is suffering at home, work or both, ask about what is happening, how they are feeling and, if appropriate, what solutions they might be able to think of. If they aren’t receptive, don’t pressurise them to disclose information. Reassure them and talk to them about support networks they may or may not be aware of. These can include: your HR team, their GP, Occupational Health, Employee Assistance Programmes and Psychological therapies. If they aren’t ready for help, respect that, and revisit it at a later date.

Ascertain who the employee would like you to involve – if anyone – and how the employee would like to move forward. Put a support plan in place. Some people who experience mental ill health may want a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP®) which explains how they wish to be treated if they become ill at work. 

If a staff member is signed off work, stay in touch with them. Early and sensitive contact from their employer may contribute to the employee feeling positive about their return to work, so communication is key. But check with the individual about how much contact they want and via what method, eg. phone, text, email or face-to-face. The contact you have with them may increase or decrease over time depending on their mental health. But if they know you are available, this will help them to still feel a part of the team. If there is little or no communication between you, barriers and misunderstandings may arise which can exacerbate low self esteem for the employee who is signed off sick. 

Employees who feel stable and supported at work are likely to be more engaged, loyal and productive. And ultimately this is where everyone – employees and employer – wants to be. So promote positive wellbeing in your workplace and remember each employee’s journey at work is different. Understand that each staff member is an individual. Put coping mechanisms in place for mental ill health should it arise, and you should be able to spot the signs of mental ill health, intervene and put a plan in place for recovery and a return to work for any employees who need it. 

More of this… 

  • Think about the rest of the team and how one employee’s mental ill health my affect them. Offer support to everyone.
  • Think about others’ workloads in the absence of an employee being signed off sick
  • Be honest and open without breaching any confidentiality
  • Create an atmosphere where staff can approach you openly and honestly. This prevents gossip and untruths.
  • Deal with things early to stop them escalating
  • Be aware an employee might not be able to think clearly if they are very distressed. 

None of that… 

  • Ignoring issues or thinking they will just go away or resolve themselves on their own
  • Embarrassment and awkwardness
  • Making judgments
  • Putting pressure on yourself to fix this. You may not have the answers but you can still help.
  • Don’t put pressure on a staff member to reveal information if they don’t want to

Final Thoughts

As a business leader, supporting your staff is paramount to their well-being as well as the success of your team. If you or your team are interested to find out more about how to manage your mental health, get in touch!

Next time… A thought about reasonable adjustments at work to aid positive mental health.