Mental health includes our emotional, psychological and social wellbeing. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others and make choices.
Mental health, like physical health, can fluctuate from ‘good’ to ‘poor’. Good mental health is important to a person’s overall wellbeing, so it’s important to spot the signs of mental health challenges in your employees so that you can help support them.
What’s mental ill health?
Mental ill health covers a number of different conditions, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Mental health problems can affect anyone regardless of age, personality or background. They can appear as a result of experiences or challenges in our personal and working lives – or they can just happen.
Mental health and work
A total of 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem each year, according to Mind. Despite the fact that it’s very common, it’s not always easy to talk about. Nearly half of people who face mental health challenges feel uncomfortable talking to their employer about it (Time to Change).
It’s important to take mental health seriously as 15 million absence days are linked to stress, anxiety and depression (ONS 2016). Furthermore, 1 in 3 sick notes are related to mental health, according to the NHS.
With that in mind, we would like to offer some insights in how an employer can spot the possible signs of mental health issues in individual employees and their workforce as a whole…
Signs of mental health issues in the workforce
High staff turnover
A higher staff turnover rate is likely to be a symptom of an unhappy workforce and could be down to negative culture, little career development or lack of focus on employee health and wellbeing. If staff turnover starts to increase significantly, it might be a result of the latter and those who have mental health challenges may resign when they feel they don’t get the support they need at work.
Increase in sick days
A big increase in sick days across your workforce could be a sign that your employees are stressed and experiencing mental health challenges. Many people don’t feel comfortable citing mental health as a reason for sickness absence, so this is even more reason to spot the early signs of mental health issues in the workplace. Regular shorter-term absences without a doctor’s note may be indicative of a mental health issue.
Complaints against the organisation
Complaints are a tell-tale sign that something is wrong with the wellbeing of the workplace as they highlight distress caused to an individual by other people in the workplace. Grievances and complaints can cause or be caused by mental health challenges, for example issues including workplace bullying or stress from heavy workloads.
Low employee engagement
Those experiencing mental health challenges can seem tired and lethargic as well as demonstrate an inability to make decisions and exhibit unusual displays of emotion. Whilst these behaviours may appear similar to that of a disengaged employee, they are also early signs of stress or an emerging mental health problem.
Decline in productivity
Mental health issues can decrease productivity just like physical health problems can. People suffering with poor mental health may find it hard to stay motivated or concentrate on their work.
Signs of mental health challenges in individuals
Changes in mood
Stress can cause normally mild-mannered individuals to begin snapping at their colleagues or an extrovert to suddenly retreat from social interaction. If someone seems more short-tempered, tearful or introverted than usual, keep an eye on their behaviour and read the section below.
Absenteeism and timekeeping
A noticeable increase in sick days may be a sign that your employee is struggling. You may also notice someone taking longer lunch breaks or arriving to work late.
Changes in productivity
When someone is stressed or distracted by health issues they may make uncharacteristic errors, miss deadlines and find it hard to concentrate.
Weight or appetite changes
Significant changes in someone’s weight (rapid weight gain or loss) or different eating habits (eating significantly less or more) can indicate a mental health issue.
If you notice your employees look tired, lethargic or worn out on a regular basis, it could be a sign that they aren’t sleeping well which could be down to stress and their mental health.
How to create a mental health friendly atmosphere
Engage with staff and colleagues – set time aside to talk to them and be sure to introduce yourself to new members. People are more likely to shout up about problems if they feel you’re approachable.
Try to keep tabs on the mood in your workplace. Is morale positive or negative? Can anything be done to improve it?
Ensure that staff targets and workload are manageable and achievable. Stress caused by excessive pressure can have a negative effect on mental health. It can also result in high turnover, reduced productivity and an increase in human error.
Lead by example and try to be calm and tolerant towards other staff members.
Promote awareness of mental health in the workplace.
Supporting an individual employee
If you’re concerned about an employee it’s important to treat them with sensitivity. Take them to one side for an informal one-to-one chat, making it clear that they have done nothing wrong, and ask if everything is OK.
Should their work have deteriorated, mention that you have seen a change in their work and ask if they are having any issues in the workplace. If so, try to address this as you would any other work-related issue.
If they open up to you about an issue, follow the following advice:
Listen to them and wait until they finish what they have to say
Limit your conversation to how you can support them at work (e.g. reducing workload, compassionate leave) and avoid becoming directly involved
Don’t make promises you can’t keep
Arrange regular catch-ups so you can review their work and the support you provide to them.