It’s Time to Talk Day. For those who haven’t heard about it, it’s a campaign run by charity ‘Time to Change’ to encourage people to talk to one another about their mental health. This could be in any setting, at home, with friends and even at work.
We’ve all got mental health and feeling able to talk about this openly is something that is slowly becoming accepted and commonplace in society and at work. However, there are still plenty of improvements to be made, particularly with regards to supporting people’s mental health, as there is a big gap here in society – this is where employers can help.
The Opinium mental health research team released a national report last year titled ‘Opening the Conversation: Mental Wellbeing at Work’ to better understand how employees feel about discussing mental health at work, asking for help and how employers can better support their mental wellbeing.
The results (full report here) highlighted some key areas for improvement, with regards to both support at work and the culture around mental health. So how can employers help fill this support gap and help accelerate change?
Support your employees experiencing poor mental health
Having support in place for those who are currently struggling with their mental health is key. Different people are best supported by different things and what works for one person may not for another, therefore it is vital that an individualistic approach to support is provided. Employers might offer counseling, either face-to-face, over the phone, or they might offer a helpline for workers to use as and when they need it. There could be a need to adjust working hours, or environment, or take time off.
There needs to be a clear policy around taking time off for illness, including mental ill health, as it reassures employees that their employer can help them as well as giving them confidence about what to expect. We found that ‘feeling like their employer couldn’t help’ was one of the key reasons people didn’t open up to their employer about mental health when struggling (24% of the working population).
Having someone to confide in at work, such as an internal mentor or career manager, is also important and can help provide support and advise. They can provide a listening ear, but also help advise how the company can help the individual with their mental health and help guide them to the right sources of support in the workplace. Manager training is also important here though, in terms of ensuring managers and mentors are equipped with the skills and knowledge to be this point of contact for their mentees. Our research found that employees who were offered mentoring schemes had significantly higher mental wellbeing scores, as measured by an academically validated scale.
Empower employees to maintain good mental wellbeing
We all have mental health, and it’s important that we start to look after it as we do with physical wellbeing and exercise/ diet. Employers can help employees maintain good mental wellbeing and build resilience against poor mental wellbeing.
Education is one element of this in terms of educating about mental wellbeing, as 18% of those who struggled with their mental wellbeing didn’t tell their employer as they weren’t sure how to talk about it. Teaching techniques for maintaining good mental wellbeing (e.g. mindfulness) is also highly effective, with those who are provided with this information having significantly higher mental wellbeing than whose who are not.
Another vital element is creating a work environment that nurtures mental wellbeing. For example, we found that high workload was a top stress for workers (30%) and a key reason for not taking time off work for poor mental health (19%). Therefore, it’s important to ensure workload is manageable and spread the load before people become overwhelmed. But there will be times when people’s workload gets too much, and it’s also important to have clear processes in place to help people when this happens. Workload is an important hygiene factor when it comes to mental wellbeing - if people don’t have time to attend a workshop on mental wellbeing techniques or other initiatives then they can’t benefit from them.
Drive culture change via a top-down and human approach
Initiatives and support programmes are vitally important in the workplace wellbeing journey, they help fill that vital support gap for mental health and encourage openness. However, change will not occur if there isn’t an open conversation about mental wellbeing and a cultural shift in attitudes towards mental health in the workplace. A top down approach is very effective here, in terms of sharing stories of struggling with mental health. This demonstrates to employees that nothing bad will happen if they are to open up about their mental health; having their career jeopardised is a common concern and barrier for those who have not told anyone at work about struggling with their mental health (19%).
Culture change takes time but being more open about mental health and creating a safe space will help normalise these conversations and make them more commonplace at work. Open that conversation by checking in with a colleague this Time to Talk day.
Sophie Holland, senior researcher at Opinium.