2020’s toll on workplace mental health

There’s no denying that this has been a tough year for all organisations and the people who work in them and with them.

Uncertainty over health, family and job security are all key triggers for poor mental health. This year, many of us have had to cope with all three of these issues in a climate of semi-isolation and ambiguity about when things might improve.

As employers, managers, team leaders and colleagues, we all have a responsibility to look after the mental health of those around us as well as paying attention to how we ourselves are feeling and thinking. Today’s ‘workplace’ may be a spare bedroom, a kitchen table or a socially-distanced office – it doesn’t matter where we are working, it matters how we are working.

Raising awareness of mental health issues

Supporting good mental health benefits your organisation, both in terms of productivity and profits. That means making it as important in your business as physical health. And in turn that means educating yourself, your leadership team and your staff about what ‘mental health’ means. It’s about understanding how an open and supportive culture can promote better mental health and an earlier intervention when things are difficult. And it’s about establishing an environment – whether office-based or virtual – where people feel confident about taking time for themselves, talking to their colleagues and managers, and encouraging positive behaviours.

Taking things seriously

Many employees who have experienced mental health problems have not had good outcomes when it comes to work. In fact, statistics from the Mental Health at Work community interest company suggest that around 9% of workers with mental health problems are dismissed, and that poor mental health costs an average of £1,652 per employee per year. If you’re a small business with 50 employees, that’s nearly £83,000 per year. In today’s competitive talent market, candidates are actively looking for employers who have a clear and supportive mental health policy.

What can you do?

As an employer, you have a duty of care under the Equality Act 2010. You should be promoting diversity and inclusion and that includes people who have diagnosed mental health conditions as well as those who may find themselves under mental health pressure while they are working with you. There are several things you can do to promote better mental health in your organisation:

  • Get some training – the better you understand mental health and its impact on the people who work for you and, by extension, your organisation, the better placed you will be to support your teams. Training should involve you and your leadership team, and be rolled out across your organisation to make sure that everyone is aware of the key issues and impacts.
  • Put a clear policy in place – your organisation should have a policy that covers mental health. This helps to give your staff a clear idea of what they can do and what they can expect if they have a mental health issue, and helps your business to promptly support and manage events as they arise.
  • Build an open culture – one of the biggest historical problems with mental health in the workplace is the lack of space to talk about it. In fact, it’s still an issue that’s often hidden away, with people feeling uncomfortable about talking about it, and worried that admitting to a problem may affect their promotion or job security opportunities. By operating an open culture, where managers are trained to listen to people and to help them make decisions that work both for the individual and the business, you are supporting your staff, improving your reputation and taking clear steps towards treating mental and physical health as equals.

Head into 2021 with confidence

If you feel that your approach to mental health in the workplace needs some support, we can help. As we head into 2021, working lives are very different, with the pandemic having a range of mental health impacts on your people. Even if their own jobs are safe, they may be worried about the other income in their household, or they may be caring for vulnerable people. Or the pressure of current circumstances may exacerbate a condition that is usually well managed.

Talk to us about training, policies and culture change that helps not just to understand mental health issues, but will result in a business that actively promotes positive mental health for the good of your people and your long-term business success.