Mental Health in the Workplace

Did you know, 1 in 6 workers in the UK are dealing with a mental health problem such as anxiety, depression or stress? This can have a huge impact on staff performance. Providing effective support for employees is key to aid recovery and return to peak performance.

Poor working environments, including discrimination and inequality, excessive workloads, low job control and job insecurity can affect mental health in the workplace. Other factors outside of work can also affect mental health, whether that be big life changes, family disputes or any personal circumstances.

See below 5 ways an employer can help support mental health in the workplace.


Stop the Stigma

One in five employees felt they couldn’t tell their manager if they were overly stressed at work and less than half of people diagnosed with a mental health condition had told their manager. From this, it is clear to see employees are too scared to tell their manager about a mental health problem, which can cause problems to spiral. This is a massive indicator for employers to create a culture that encourages staff to be open about their mental health and stop the stigma.

Taking proactive steps to create a more open and supporting culture will really help employees feel more confident talking about their mental health and in turn, this can reduce the risks of developing a more serious problem. Key behaviours that managers can use to do this is being approachable and confident about mental health and take steps to normalise conversations about mental health and encourage open dialogue. Regular one to ones are great for building trust and asking staff how they are doing. This can also help to identify any problems early and resolve them.


Start Conversations about Mental Health

Sometimes employers can worry about how to have a conversation with their staff about mental health, but it is so important to raise it to as soon as you notice an employee is struggling, to stop problems from spiralling and having a negative impact on the individual and the company. Some cues that may indicate an employee is struggling could be changes in mood, work output, motivation levels, appearing tired, anxious or withdrawn and changes in eating habits and increased smoking and drinking.

Sometimes, managers may feel they lack confidence approaching a conversation and instead make it overly formal or escalate it to HR straight away. But all you need to be is approachable, a good listener and empathetic – this will help shape how employees respond when experiencing stress and mental health issues.


Supporting an Employee with Mental Health

Once you have started that conversation, the next step is to develop positive steps to address the factors that the employee is struggling with. Clear policies on workplace adjustments are vital for supporting staff coping and recovering and reducing the length of mental health related absence.

Simple adjustments can be made to an employee’s role or extra support can be given. This is very much tailored to the individual, examples include, perhaps working from home more often, regular breaks, extra leave or phased return.

It is important that employees are not treated differently because of these adjustments, for example, having to keep extra detailed timesheets or be micro-managed as this can damage self-esteem.


Managing an Employee’s Time Off Work

There are times where an employee can be so unwell, they need time off to recover. It is so important that employers manage this well as it is key to shaping how well and how quickly employees can return. To do this, employers should remain proactive and get involved as early as possible, take a person-centred approach and be sensitive to the individuals needs, be positive, professional, supportive and maintain regular contact with the employee during the absence.

Your company may have policies on taking time off work – it should be made clear that staff are treated equally whether they have a physical illness or mental illness. Organisations should support managers in supporting staff when they are off sick.

The way employers manage a period of absence sends a message about the organisation’s values and this has a wider impact than simply on the individual. If it is managed poorly, it can negatively affect the professional relationship and can impact the employee’s confidence to come back to work. This can in turn lead to the loss of a valuable member and damaging a morale in the company.


Managing an Employee’s Return to Work

Return to work interviews can be carried out before the employee returns to work. It is a good idea for managers to explain the return-to-work process, reassure the employee that they are not expected to walk straight back into full time hours or manage a full workload, find out if there is anything in the workplace that can cause stress and discuss solutions, discuss any worries about returning to work and provide reassurance.

The first day back at work can be nerve wracking, managers should ensure it runs as smooth as possible. Establishing together what colleagues are going to be told, meeting at the door or travelling together are ideas that can help make the return less stressful.


Supporting staff with mental health problems not only keeps hold of a valuable employee, it also sends important messages about your organisation’s values. After all, trust and integrity are key drivers of engagement and employers who look out for their staff, reap the benefits of loyalty and commitment from their employees.

Posted by: Phoebe Walden