Poor mental health can have a huge impact on our working lives and on the companies we work for.
It’s vital that managers and team leaders are aware of the signs to look out for and how best to help; not only to support the employee, but also to support the business as a whole.
We have come a long way, but there is still a stigma around mental health and people will often try to disguise any difficulties, particularly at work, for fear of being seen as inadequate or letting the team down in some way.
A responsible manager needs to make sure they know the common signs that someone is struggling emotionally.
Just as they might have a conversation with someone if they were suffering from sickness or a heavy cold, they should be able to spot symptoms of poor mental health and act appropriately.
What should managers be looking for?
A few early signs of poor mental health might be that the worker is:
- Easily distracted
- Seems worried or on edge
- Can’t concentrate
- Struggles to make decisions
- Has low mood and low energy
- Is finding it difficult to manage their emotions
- Is talking less than usual
- Is irritable and short tempered, and possibly aggressive
All of these symptoms could be an indication that the employee’s mental health is suffering, and the manager may need to take action.
It may be that the employee is worried about work-related challenges, after all there have been plenty to concern us in recent years; the pandemic, furlough, the threat of redundancy, working from home and juggling work and family life to mention a few.
But there may be something more serious going on in the worker’s personal life that may be causing further stress and distress.
It can also be a vicious cycle; if a person’s work is falling short because of poor mental health, that might affect overall wellbeing at work.
How can managers help?
The best initial response is simply to talk with your team member, ask how they are doing and explain the differences you have noticed. Employers need to be prepared to listen – remembering that people are not problems that need to be fixed.
A good manager will already have built solid relationships with employees and that will make it easier to start a conversation about what may be a sensitive and emotional subject.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has a helpful checklist for that initial chat*:
- Avoid interruptions – switch off phones, ensure colleagues can’t walk in and interrupt
- Ask simple, open, non-judgmental questions
- Avoid judgmental or patronising responses
- Speak calmly
- Maintain good eye contact
- Listen actively and carefully
- Encourage the employee to talk
- Show empathy and understanding
- Be prepared for some silences and be patient
- Focus on the person, not the difficulties
- Avoid making assumptions or being prescriptive
- Follow up in writing, especially agreed actions or support.
Whatever happens, the lines of communication need to be kept open with regular reviews of the situation.
Many workplaces now have dedicated Mental Health First Aiders, who work as a good first port of call for an employee or manager who is struggling and needs support.
How can employees help themselves?
I like to talk about the ‘stress container’, which looks at someone’s vulnerability to stress and helps them visualise and understand stress to better manage it.
Imagine you have a container which stress flows into. Your vulnerability to stress is indicated by the size of the container; the smaller it is, the more vulnerable you are and the more likely it is that the container will overflow. If this happens, emotional difficulties can develop.
If we can visualise our stress container, we can better manage what to fill it with, avoiding issues out of our control, like the Covid pandemic.
We can then control what is in there, by opening a ‘tap’ through helpful wellbeing techniques like talking, exercise or meditation, to drain stress away.
Employees who are struggling can take a pause and visualise their own stress container. See what’s in it, what you can get rid of (what is out of your control) and what you can do to open your ‘tap’.
Why is it so important to the business to support employees with their mental health?
According to Deloitte** poor mental health costs UK employers up to £45 billion each year. This cost can be cut massively by investing in the right support.
Deloitte’s analysis found that for every £1 spent on investing in support for people, employers got £5 back.
If employees know they are supported and heard, they will be much happier at work.
And a happy workforce makes for a happy and productive business.
What can I do to learn more?
Here at The Helpful Coach Ltd, we can offer coaching and training for employers, managers, and employees to support them in having helpful conversations and learning tools plus techniques for positive mental health.
We also offer a course called Mental Health Awareness for Managers to help give leaders the confidence and skills to support mental health needs.
For workplaces that haven’t got Mental Health First Aiders in place, we can offer specialist training and qualifications.
And we can also help people visualise their ‘stress container’ and find helpful ways to open that ‘tap’.
Get in touch to find out how we can help you do this.