Blue Monday originally began as a marketing campaign by Sky Travel in 2005, however, people now consider the 3rd Monday in January the saddest day of the year. We may have fallen into a trap of a great marketing campaign, like those 10k steps being the optimal goal daily. Either way, Blue Monday is a day to reflect and check in on employees, ensuring you are supporting their mental wellbeing.
Our mental health can fluctuate depending on circumstances we face in our daily lives, gaining information and support can help many tackle their mental illness. Within the UK 4.5% adult are living with mental health problems. HR departments need to be responding to these statistics in a proactive manner. HR managers/consultants should encourage the development of mental wellbeing support strategies in the workplace.
Mental health in the workplace
Those suffering from poor mental health may have protection from disability discrimination under the Equality Act (2010) in England, Scotland, and Wales and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) as amended in Northern Ireland. Businesses must not discriminate against employees with mental health problems and should provide support for those living with mental health issues.
In England alone 109 million working days per year are lost due to depression, which is costing the economy £9 billion each yearly. Putting emphasis on the need for employers to invest and support employees, helping to ease/prevent the potential for mental health issues rising due to work related stress.
Supporting employees with a mental illness
Mental health illness should be treated the way you would treat a physical illness. Managers and colleagues should be positive and professional in all cases. Ensure all approaches are people-focused and not business orientated, also the main point of contact should not change throughout the sickness absence, as of being a trusted person.
How line managers manage sickness reflects a company’s culture and values. Poor absence management impacts working relationships, lessening the trust between line managers and employees. People suffering mentally will only confide their struggles with trusted individuals.
How can you support employees
- Take into consideration the time and place
- Ask yourself – is this a private space, can they speak confidentially? This conversation should not happen, for example, at lunch in the communal area or at their desk in front of other colleagues
- Practice active listening
- You shouldn’t push the conversation, allowing the person to express their feelings and thoughts based on their mental health. You should not try to anticipate what the person is going to say or try manipulating the conversation. They should have full control over the chat, building trust and understanding outlook.
- Encouraging knowledge building to identity good and bad mental health
- Reading can help individuals understand coping measures for their mental health, from adopting new habits from reading ‘Atomic Habits’ by James Clear or helping to understand their mental illness by reading ‘Lost connections’ by Johann Hari.
- Speaking with a GP or specialist should be encouraged also, to ensure professional guidance is obtained.
- Promoting leaving your desk at lunchtime – Many people may sit at their desk whilst eating lunch due to job demands. This causes burn-out, leading to lower productivity and impacts their mental health.
- Open communication
- No communication barriers should be present in the workplace. HR departments must collaborate with all departments to ensure employees can speak with managers, regarding job demands and pressures. Stress levels must be manageable, and employers have a duty to minimise stress.
- Employee Assistance Programme (EAP)
- EAP is a work-based program that provides confidential evaluations, and short-term counseling and assists employees who are having personal/work-related issues. If used effectively it can boost employee morale, and reduce staff turnover whilst improving the health of employees.
- Research has shown that for every £1 the company spends on mental health interventions, they have the potential to get £5 in return from fewer absences and reduced staff turnover.
- Support employees whilst working from home
HR responsibility for supporting mental wellbeing in work
HR play a critical role, including providing mental health awareness training for everyone in the workplace. Training should focus on identifying the signs of mental health issues. Line managers should be coached on how to speak with employees when they are rising concerns around their mental health, including how to respond in a sensitive manner which does not discriminate against the individual.
Whilst being able to identity signs, it is also critical to actively promote positive mental health. This can be key for a proactive approach against the unseen illness, from work-life balance policies (even when working from home) to adapting the culture within the company. Changing culture may take into consideration reducing the hours spent working outside of normal office hours.
Small and simple steps can make a difference for employees, as trying to change too much at once may cause confusion and lessen the quality of policies. HR must have a clear role and outlook in the development of a mental health support strategy.
Blue Monday shines a spotlight on mental health. Whilst many will be using this subject for ‘trending content’ this week, mental health support should be emphasised continually in the working environment for a lasting impact.
Contact us today for guidance on preventing workplace discrimination against mental health issues.
There are resources available to businesses to help promote positive mental well-being: