Most adults spend the majority of their waking hours at work – so for employers, managing mental health in the workplace should be top priority.
Rohan lived with a serious mental illness and survived three suicide attempts before a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder in 2006.
Since then, he has been involved in raising awareness around mental health both in the workplace and outside, as well as working on projects with the BBC Asian Network and 5 Live, being part of the award-winning Channel 5 documentary, “Me & My Mental Illness”, and in 2017, running 18 marathons in order to raise awareness and funds for Mind.
Given his expertise in matters relating to mental health in the workplace, we spoke to Rohan about recognising the key warning signs, the importance of having open conversations, and the best way to approach and manage employees with mental health issues.
Check out even more tips on how to build a resilient team.
What do you think are some of the key warning signs of employees with mental health issues?
There are so many indicators of potential mental health challenges – and those at work are, in effect, very much the same as you see outside of the workplace.
Unexplained absences or unusual absence patterns may be a key sign.
Certainly, with a mood illness, there is often neither rhyme nor reason to mood patterns, so repeated and irregular short-notice absences are very significant.
Mood is, in itself, a very strong sign of our mental wellbeing.
We automatically think of times when colleagues are quieter or more irritable than usual, but mental illness can very often demonstrate itself with someone being more sociable and energetic than usual, typically in what is called hypomania.
This makes it all the more difficult as the symptoms can range from a colleague seeming withdrawn and fatigued, through to wanting to take on responsibility for every project in the company.
We should always be looking for different patterns of behaviour – sometimes this will be an erratic swing, or often just someone acting out of character.
Concentration lapses, poor time management, inability to multitask, changeable moods, inability to make decisions, and conflict are just some of the key indicators that all might not be well, and that your employees may be facing mental health issues in the workplace.
Why is it so important to create a culture where people can speak openly about issues?
For all of the undoubted progress we have made, there remains a stigma around mental health, a fear of our colleagues in openly speaking about it, and one in companies of how to manage and support it.
As a company, the simplest reason to drive a culture of well-being is the correlation with high performance and productivity.
I constantly, in my public speaking, refer to the statistic that 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health challenge in any year.
It never ceases to amaze me how many people are suddenly looking around the room, realising that there are likely several people in the room living through the hell of mental illness.
As human beings, empathy is one of the most natural emotions, and while we can’t look through someone else’s pain and understand what they are going through, with open discussion comes empathy and compassion.
As we speak more, we learn more, so become better at identifying not only what others are facing, but actually identifying our own challenges.
By having a culture of open dialogue, we’re encouraging people to look after their mental health and creating an environment in which they can learn how to do so.
When we demonstrate a commitment to our people, we drive better employee engagement and, ultimately, productivity.
How can employers implement an open, unprejudiced culture at work?
If there is a colleague who is comfortable sharing their story, an intranet or a fireside chat can be a real catalyst for change and can begin a dialogue.
One of the best investments a company can make is to have a qualified Mental Health First Aider in their team, someone trained to be able to reassure and guide colleagues to the most appropriate support.
Educate and empower people by having posters or flyers visible for staff, create a culture which says, “it’s ok not to be ok.”
But above all, it’s about engaging the entire work community – getting involved in things like Time to Talk Day or Mind’s Crafternoon activities are a great way to get people talking and engaged.
Whatever you do, back up your actions; when people do come forward, ensure that there are policies and processes which treat them fairly and compassionately, encouraging others to do the same.
What is the best way to approach an employee who appears to be struggling?
Listen – let that person know that their thoughts and feelings are valued and being heard.
When you are in a difficult place with illness, it destroys self-worth, and the moment you feel you are being judged it can set off very destructive thought patterns.
Just ask if they’re ok and, even if they say they are, reassure them that you’re there for them – it will mean the world, even if they are reluctant to open up.
It’s also important to reassure employees that they are not about to lose their job, that they will be supported in whatever ways are necessary, and they have options (whether that’s time off, employee assistance, or support in their job).
Above all, remember that you’re not there to fix the issue but you are there to lift them, let them know they are valued and listened to, cared about, and that you will be there for them throughout the journey, however long that takes.
It may seem a huge commitment, but it’s an easy one to make when we realise the scale and omnipresence of mental illness.
What are some long-term policies or initiatives that can help to prevent mental health issues in the workplace?
Employee Assistance Programmes are a great way of giving staff access to help and support in a way which doesn’t impact on their privacy.
Beyond that, you can:
- Manage workload and expectation
- Ensure that employees are motivated and rewarded for what they do
- Equip leaders with management skills and tools to be able to effectively manage and be compassionate to colleagues in distress
- Ensure the physical environment is suitable for people to be productive and happy
- Make sure that the equipment people use is up to scratch
- Create an environment which drives great physical health, reduces stress and tension
- Equip people to succeed
- Understand the importance of promoting healthy eating at work.
Wellbeing initiatives and teams should be at the heart of the modern workplace, inclusive and visible, welcoming ideas and holding regular awareness events around the full spectrum of health issues, both mental and physical.
Above all, it comes down to empowerment – this is the biggest tool in creating an engaged, open team which will enable a culture of openness in the long term.
In graduate recruitment and beyond, it’s clear that there are a number of ways to look after the wellbeing of your employees.
By understanding mental health issues and recognising how they can reveal themselves in the workplace, you can create an open and supportive culture in your business, that helps to create a positive environment for all employees.
Think an employee could be struggling with an addiction? Rehab 4 Addiction offers a free hotline dedicated to assisting people suffering from drug, alcohol and mental health problems.
Rehab 4 Addiction was founded in 2011 by people who overcame addiction themselves.
You can contact Rehab 4 Addiction on 0800 140 4690.
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