1 in 6 people in the workplace deal with mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Needless to say that mental health concerns are affecting organisational performance and results.
Employers have to know – now more than ever – how to recognise when someone is struggling with mental health issues. Besides affecting the overall team’s results, underperforming employees affected by a mental health concern are also at a higher risk of physical health problems. The support that employees with mental health problems receive from their workplace can determine their recovery rate and ability to bounce back from difficult moments.
How can employers better support mental health at the workplace, especially when someone is visibly dealing with an underlying mental health condition?
Why don’t we talk about mental health at work?
Very often, employees are afraid to open up about their mental health struggles at work. Some research data shows that less than half of people diagnosed with a mental health problem have informed their manager about it. The reasons why people cannot openly talk about mental health at work are varied. For example, many fear the stigma associated with it, while others think that their job is at risk of their employer perceiving them as vulnerable.
However, there is more to it when it comes to our inability to discuss mental health in the workplace. The reasons for this issue might be more complex and often associated with the type of our collective work culture.
More specifically, many workplaces do not offer a safe space wherein people can openly discuss how they feel. Employees are taught to ‘push forward’, ‘hang in there’, and ‘stay strong’. While this is not necessarily bad advice, it might make people feel as if their feelings and vulnerabilities are not fully embraced in the work context. It also makes people feel that they are less worthy and valuable if they are less efficient than usual. Because of this, mental health problems at work still remain a difficult topic.
Employers can play a part in changing how we talk about mental health in the workplace by modelling healthy behaviours and attitudes towards vulnerable employees.
Best ways to offer mental health support in the workplace
Knowing what to do and say when someone discloses a mental health challenge is crucial. To many people, talking about something as private and sensitive as mental health can be highly challenging. For this reason, it is important that employers and managers educate themselves on how to respond and behave when an employee struggles with an acute or chronic mental health problem.
Here are some ways in which employers can safely respond to someone experiencing a mental health struggle at work:
Create a safe space for conversations about mental health
In order for people to feel that they can bring up a sensitive topic in a conversation, they first need to have the space to do that. A non-judgemental attitude, empathetic listening, and unconditional acceptance can make someone feel safe when opening up about their mental health.
As an employer, you can support your employees by simply letting them know that you are willing to listen to them. Do refrain from making interpretations or unnecessary comments about their performance or mental health – these can be addressed professionally at a later time.
Don’t make assumptions
Another common mistake that people make when dealing with someone with a mental health problem is assuming they know everything about them and their illness.
For example, many assume that someone is anxious because they are weak and incapable of handling difficult emotions. Or that a depressed person lacks motivation because they are lazy.
Mental health problems are highly complex, so assuming that you know why someone is behaving the way they do will only stop employees from opening up. Instead of making assumptions about someone’s mental health and its causes, remain open and supportive.
Delegate tasks when needed
If your employee has less energy than usual because of their mental health issues, be ready to seek solutions and delegate when needed. This is one of the greatest ways in which you can support someone’s mental health at work.
Sometimes employees’ performance shifts, but this does not mean that they will underperform forever. Remain as understandable as possible and see if you can make work easier for them by delegating tasks and helping them manage their workload more efficiently.