Blue Monday’, 17 January – billed as the most depressing day of the year – Adrian Lewis, Commercial Director at Activ People HR stresses the importance of employers looking out for mental health issues amongst employees, after almost two years of Covid-19.
Lewis says, “Although Blue Monday is unofficially seen as the most depressing day of the year, it’s a useful marker for reminding employers to keep an eye on people’s mental wellbeing in the workplace.
“The pandemic has taken a toll on many people’s mental health and employers need to be mindful that workers could be suffering in silence given many are still working remotely, and it can be hard for employers to spot the signs.”
Data released by the Government’s Health and Safety Executive[i] in December 2021 found that in 2020/21 work-related stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 50% of all work- related ill health. Also, the 2020/21 rate of self-reported work-related stress, depression or anxiety was higher than pre-coronavirus levels.
The Mental Health Foundation[ii] reported that 70 million work days are lost each year due to mental health problems in the UK costing employer’s approximately £2.4 billion per year.
Lewis adds, “Employers have a duty of care to look after the mental wellbeing of their workforce throughout the year. There are simple measures they could introduce this January to better support workers and promote a culture where people feel able to speak up if they find themselves suffering. Putting these in place now could really help break the stigma of mental illness and ensure businesses don’t see a rise in absenteeism in 2022.”
Lewis suggests the following tips to support mental wellbeing in the workplace:
Demonstrate a commitment to mental health – It’s essential that employees feel able to discuss any mental health concerns with their manager or HR. Encourage conservations about mental health and promote an open culture where people feel they can talk to their manager about any concerns. Perhaps have a time at the end of each team meeting where people can chat through any wellbeing issues.
Appoint Mental Health champions – Having people in the organisation who are trained to support colleagues and to promote mental health awareness could help to break down any stigmas around mental health.
Train managers to recognise signs – All managers should have training to recognise stress, anxiety and depression and manage staff with mental health issues. Often employees feel uncomfortable speaking about mental health but those trained to recognise the signs can gently encourage conversations if they have concerns about an employee.
Use technology – Invest in absence management software to spot the early signs someone is suffering. This software tracks all absence such as sick leave and holiday leave and enables employers to better understand behaviour. Not taking all their annual leave could be a sign something is wrong, as can taking a lot of time off sick.
Always do return to work interviews – Absence management software prompts return to work interviews when people are off sick. This can give someone a safe space to discuss any issues and for managers to spot any red flags or areas of concerns. These should are vital for picking up early signs something is wrong.
Communicate what support is available – Many companies have access to counselling services or other mental health support through their EAPs. Often though employees don’t know these exist, so make sure you remind them. Companies could also signpost other organisations where employees could get help such as the charity Mind[iii] and the NHS[iv].
Encourage staff to have a good work/life balance – Companies should lead from the top and encourage a good work/life balance. People spend a lot of time at work so encourage regular breaks during the day, team days out or Friday drinks/coffee mornings etc. as well as taking all their annual leave.
There will always be times when people need to work late or extra hours, but don’t make this a habit. Where possible allow some flexibility for early finishes or even every fourth Friday afternoon off if they have had a particularly busy period.