Leaders must carry the beacon for mental health

Employment & Skills | Reports

Mental health in the workplace is no longer just an issue for HR departments. As someone in a leadership position at my firm, I have a personal and professional obligation to look after our employees beyond pay packets and bonuses, as do all other decision makers within a business.

According to the TUC, someone falls ill from stress at work every two minutes. With a statistic like this, proactive measures and innovative solutions can provide a buffer from increased absenteeism. They serve as essential bolt-ons to an employer’s legal duty of care.

Some employees may be able to approach their managers to talk about a mental health issue they’re experiencing. More often than not however, many labour under the false assumption that a traumatic event or extreme stress trigger is the only way to receive support or understanding. This is not the case. The spectrum of mental health covers everything from suicide prevention to daily chronic anxiety to postnatal depression.

Open and honest conversation is the first key step. This includes encouraging management to lead by example and speak up to declare their commitment to mental health, whether this is in strategy meetings or as part of the agenda for weekly team updates.

Leaders must not assume that their existing in-house resources for maintaining good mental health are sufficient or even appropriate. Regular employee engagement and consultation are absolutely necessary to ensure that all the mental health needs of their employees are being met, based on regular feedback, assessments and dialogue. A workforce is a collective but it is made up of individuals, all with different backgrounds and circumstances. Support requirements can also differ greatly in nature and scope from firm to firm.

There are a wide variety of solutions out there, such as Employee Assistance Programs and Mental Health First Aid Training, the latter only requiring two days for an employee to become certified and armed with the knowledge to lend a hand to someone who may be suffering. An Employee Assistance Programme is a low cost employee benefit that provides a qualified counselling service to help contain problems and prevent them spiralling out of control.

All leaders want their workforce to be healthy, not only in order for them to perform their duties but also because a nurturing workplace culture is no longer a luxury. If you’re looking to expand your workforce, be prepared to have tangible examples of how employee welfare is a priority at your company when interviewing candidates.

There is much talk about how a healthy workforce means increased productivity and a healthier bottom line. The point is so obvious now that it doesn’t need me or anyone else to reiterate it. Mental health is now about doing the right thing for its own sake and for attracting (and retaining) the kind of people who may eventually assume senior roles at your firm. Once a happy and supported workforce is in place, everything else should naturally follow.

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