David Price Health AssuredMental health issues can still be a taboo subject for employers, but there are some relatively simple measures they can take to ensure they can provide support to their employees, says David Price

With 1 in 6 workers currently dealing with a mental health issue, ensuring that employers understand how to respond to and support employees with mental health issues is of the utmost importance.

A supportive employer is an imperative component in the recovery process, helping an individual to feel comfortable and confident in resuming their role at work. Failing to support individuals may lead to continual absence from the workplace or having an employee who is physically present at work, yet unable to perform at their full capacity.

Less than 50% of people who have been diagnosed with a mental health problem felt that they could tell their manager and subsequently failed to do so. This demonstrates that organisations need to place more focus on creating an open and supportive workplace culture when it comes to mental health, ensuring that it is a seen as an equal priority to physical health.

Enforcing such changes is not an overnight task, and time should be taken to ensure that the process taken is right for the organisation and employees. Taking time to build a supportive environment will encourage employees to come forth and engage more with their management team, opening up about their mental health concerns. 

If employers are able to provide early intervention to support individuals then it can help reduce these concerns developing into more serious conditions, which in turn can prevent long-term and persistent absenteeism – a costly issue for employers.

Having an employee assistance program in place can support in this early intervention and is a cost-effective way to ensure that employees have a secure and confidential helpline that they can access when needed.  It is also beneficial in helping managers to ensure employees get the right support early on and is proven to be effective in helping employees return to work or remain in work through difficult periods.

Beyond this, managers need to ensure that they are approachable to their employees through arranging one-to-ones in order to check in with them regularly, maintaining awareness of how they are feeling, while providing a safe and comfortable platform to encourage open conversation about mental health.

As an employer, if you are aware of an employee’s concerns surrounding mental health, it would be beneficial to arrange regular welfare meetings in a secure and confidential setting. This will help build trust and encourage the employee to seek advice from their GP if necessary and if they are not getting support already.  

Practice empathy and listening skills. Try looking at what day-to-day practical support employees may need to aid them through a difficult time, and which the organisation might be able to support them with. Reasonable adjustments for someone with a mental health condition may include: looking at working times to accommodate any medication side effects; short regular breaks; review of workload on occasion; and a support plan, which could be implemented and reviewed on a regular basis to assess improvements.  

Carrying out stress risk assessments or putting in place a robust stress management policy, arranging mental health workshops or posters around the working environment to promote employee wellbeing can also aid in promoting awareness and encouraging the open dialogue around stress and mental health.

Occupational health interventions can also be considered for employees who have been diagnosed with a mental health condition and where the employer is looking for guidance on what they can do to support them within the workplace. This intervention reviews what practical steps employers can implement to support individuals while they are recovering from a period of illness.

To summarise, employers should acknowledge the importance of establishing an open and supportive workplace regarding employee mental health. The key to this is developing a friendly and approachable environment, which facilitates open dialogue between employees and employers. Encouraging engagement will help fortify the workplace, building a more robust and cohesive unit, which will not only aid employee wellbeing, but improve the way the business functions as a whole.

About the author

David Price is managing director of Health Assured, an organisation that provides health and wellbeing solutions to businesses.