Making health the hero: how employee communications can prioritise mental health in the workplaceLauren Heaven • 19th October
Mental health is a fact of life. Everybody has their ups and downs, and work is a huge factor. But is your workplace offering the support employees might need?
Seventy million workdays are lost each year due to mental health problems in the UK. That’s a cost to employers of approximately £2.4 billion per year.
And yet, mental health problems, in many companies, still feel like the elephant in the room. One in four people in the UK will suffer from a mental health problem within the space of a year, so it’s far from rare, and should no longer be a subject that can’t be breached. In 2016, it’s time to banish the elephant, and present mental health as an everyday topic of conversation, on a par, say, with the weather.
Employee communications have a massive part to play here. They can encourage employees, at every level, to think about mental health and to discuss it with those around them. Companies can also provide support in a variety of ways for employees who suffer – but if people don’t know who to go to for help, chances are, they won’t.
Mental health problems do not discriminate. Anyone from the CEO to a front-of-house employee can suffer. In fact, it’s estimated that one in six people in the past week have experienced a common mental health problem.
Working in communications gives you the opportunity to start the conversation, and to encourage others to as well.
The Mental Health Foundation has devised ten tips for good mental health, and they are a great starting point for any company wanting to provide mental health support to their employees.
- Talk about your feelings
- Eat well
- Drink sensibly
- Keep in touch with loved ones
- Ask for help
- Take a break
- Do something you’re good at
- Accept who you are
- Care for others
Whether you work in communications, HR or management, you can spread these messages. You can suggest your company focuses on wellbeing, and offers exercise clubs at lunch or promotes healthy eating through a multi-channel campaign. Or, you can champion an open door policy and asking for help, by organising a regular drop-in session in your HR department.
Educate your workforce
Line managers are the key to changing the mental health culture at your company, yet less than half of employees say they would feel able to talk openly with their line manager if they were suffering from stress. Resolving this should be a priority.
Through a targeted campaign, you can help your line managers spot the signs of mental health problems at work within their team. These are:
- Emotional change (sensitive to criticism, loss of confidence or sense of humour)
- Cognitive (more mistakes in their work, difficulty concentrating)
- Behavioural (acting out of character)
- Physical (constantly battling a cold, looking tired)
Another option is to create a digital hub that provides them with the information and resources they need to support employees. External training is an option too – Mental Health First Aid is an educational course, helping managers to recognise and understand mental health problems.
Tailor your culture
The reality is that people spend a large chunk of their time at work, and they need to feel looked after when they’re there. Changing the culture to accommodate the potential of mental health problems and improving wellbeing means happier, healthier employees. As a result, they will feel supported by their employer, increasing their engagement, and decreasing the financial impact of mental health problems on business.
Whether you go so far as developing a mental health policy, start to embrace flexible working (35% of people feel flexible working is essential for their work life balance), or create a peer-to-peer support initiative, it’s important to communicate these changes. In doing so, you will send out a signal to your employees that mental health is no longer the elephant in the room.