Mental health and well-being is not just a tick box exercise. In 2016/17 stress, depression and anxiety accounted for the majority of days lost due to work-related ill health. In total 12.5 million hours were lost and 526,000 workers where registered as suffering from work related stress, depression or anxiety. So, with one in four of us affected by such issues, why are people still afraid to talk about it, particularly in the workplace? Many employees would say it is a part of their life that they would rather their boss and work colleagues knew nothing about and there stands the problem. Thankfully, more and more employers are taking the first steps to actively encourage their workforce to discuss their problems.
In a workplace setting, managers can often be understandably nervous about having difficult or sensitive conversations about mental health with a colleague. So, in support of Time to Talk Day 2019, Gotelee Solicitors have teamed up with 1404 Performance, to share their top tips to make having those important conversations around mental health easier for everyone involved.
- Knowing your role
As a manager or colleague, you must remember you are not a trained counsellor or psychologist, so putting yourself under pressure to provide all the answers will only cause more problems. The best help you can provide to a colleague who is struggling is to listen. Help them understand any actions they can take, consider workplace adjustments or direct them to appropriate professional help.
- The environment
Location, time and positioning are 3 key factors to aid a positive conversation. Find a suitable location where you both feel comfortable. A neutral location (such as a coffee shop or going for a walk away from the place of work) may reduce any potential boundaries. Make sure you allow plenty of time for the meeting. It may take your colleague a while to open up and feel comfortable; clock watching will massively inhibit someone in speaking freely.
If you do have a conversation in a works meeting room, be mindful of seating positions. People who are struggling with mental health will often want to look away as they prepare what to say to you. Removing barriers such as desks will also help make the room feel more open. If that is not possible, sit on the same side of the table as your colleague. Avoid the desk as a boundary.
- Listen actively
Listening allows us to make sense of what someone is telling us. There is a lot more to listening than just hearing what is said. Give your colleague your undivided attention. Non-verbal communication is just as important as verbal communication, so provide positive feedback on what you are being told, by nodding and summarising what they have told you periodically. Turn off phones/laptops to avoid distractions. Don’t be tempted to overlay your experiences or those of others as part of the conversation, as mental health is unique to each person. Think about how your colleague can be supported and see if you can agree a set of steps that can be taken, or how you can encourage your colleague to take advice from an appropriately qualified professional – be that HR or their own GP.
- Don’t judge
One of the main reasons why people don’t talk more openly about their mental health is due to the fact that they are worried about being judged, because they are struggling with their mental health. It is important to always consider the situation from your colleague’s perspective, and to create a positive environment that encourages them to talk openly about how they are being affected, and the ways in which the business may be able to help.
- Make adjustments
From a welfare and legal point of view, you will need to consider whether there are any work related issues which are causing or contributing to you colleague’s mental health. Discuss whether there are ways in which the employer can help – and if there are changes to working practices, hours of work, workloads or any other steps that can reasonably be accommodated which may help your colleague, then encourage your colleague to speak with HR to discuss those.
- Follow up
Make sure that matters move forward. Sometime your colleague may be unwilling to speak to management or HR in a more formal capacity about their mental health, but it is important to ensure that you follow up on your initial meeting, to see if they can be persuaded to talk to HR or a medical adviser. Showing support in this way can often be the key to unlocking a successful outcome. Breaking down the perception of stigma is part of the problem. Most employers would prefer to know what the issue is and help the employee tackle it.