At any given time, one in six adults will be experiencing a mental health condition of some type, while 50% of all work-related ill health cases in 2020/21 were due to anxiety and depression. There are many reasons why individuals can experience mental health issues, but work-related stress is often a major factor. Work stress can add to or aggravate pre-existing problems, and can produce more visible symptoms. So we must ask ourselves as employers, are we responsible for helping employees in times of psychological distress?
Employers have a duty of care to ensure the health and safety of their employees, including their mental health. Therefore, if employers are made aware of such issues, they must be taken very seriously. This regard for mental wellbeing is just as important as safeguarding individuals from discrimination, keeping work environments physically safe, and conducting continuous assessments of possible risks to employees.
There are various risk assessments that are legal requirements for employers to carry out that protect their employees physically and mentally in the workplace, for instance:
- Stress risk assessment
- COVID-19 risk assessment
- DSE (display screen equipment) risk assessment
A study in the US (quote source) found that one in five adults experience mental health issues, whereas only one in three will seek help when needed. This can result in “presenteeism” at work, with employees attending work, but having reduced productivity due to lack of engagement caused by ill health.’Presenteeism’, or people coming into work when they are ill, has more than tripled since 2010, according to a CIPD/Simplyhealth Health and Well-being at Work survey.
Jerome Schultz, a PHD clinical neuropsychologist ,suggests that if managers are well-trained to acknowledge signs of emotional distress, they’d be able to react in a more supportive rather than punitive manner. There are many ways this can be done:
- Provide training to managers to detect signs of emotional distress in employees, or use of support mechanisms such as substance abuse. This goes hand in hand with supplying mandatory mental health training for managers, so that they are more aware of mental health issues.
- Continuously utilise surveys and suggestion boxes to understand how your employees are doing and what can be done to make the workplace more supportive for mental health.
Companies employ EAPs (Employee Assistance Programmes)to provide emotional and practical support on issues causing employee distress and problems that make them distracted whilst at work.
Mercer says that an EAP can be as simple as a free helpline where employers pay a specialist company to provide their employees with access to free confidential advice on any issue which causes them to be distressed or distracted.
EAPs offer free counselling services on subjects such as bereavement, well-being support, advice on debt management and finances, and childcare and elder support. As they’re confidential, employees can use them with the assurance that nothing is reported back to employers, so such services can offer a wealth of benefits for both employee mental health and workplace productivity.
Mental Health Stigmas
Mental health stigmas within the workplace can be addressed by giving employees space to openly discuss their issues without discrimination. Often, when there is a stigma surrounding mental health, it prevents individuals from reaching out, even when they’re at their most vulnerable. Such shame and embarrassment around mental health issues can worsen symptoms and make recovery harder. Mental health resources, for example using weekly newsletters and offering mental health workshops, can aid with employee distress.