How to support mental health issues at work

According to the World Economic Forum, one in four people globally will likely experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives. A study by the World Economic Forum/Harvard School of Public Health suggests the global impact of mental disorders in terms of lost economic output could amount to $16.3 trillion between 2011 and 2030.

While mental health and ways to manage it are slowly starting to become part of workplace conversations, there is still stigma attached to talking about it openly.

This is something we need to address if we want our workers to openly seek support, instead of hiding a mental health issue, which could possibly exacerbate the condition in the long-term if it is left untreated.

A big question we, as business leaders, often find ourselves asking is how can we communicate mental health in a way that’s both thoughtful and valuable to our employees? 

Make it part of office dialogue 

We need to try to find ways to include discussions on mental illness in workplace conversations. It may not be suitable as the topic of chats at the water-cooler, as your employees may not be happy talking about their mental well-being with a manager at work, their partners or even family members. 

Instead, contemplate having at least one HR professional who is trained in intervention coaching and has open office hours for talking about these matters in private. 

Some third-party health care technology businesses can create private forums for employees to talk about any mental health worries. That can help employees who may not be comfortable retrieving online mental health materials at work.

Make sure access to help and the essential details about these options are openly available – whether that’s through a portal on your company website or an internal e-newsletter.

Create flexible work patterns

Today’s rapidly changing business environment often means colleagues are divided across numerous locations time zones. This may be fantastic for business, but the American Psychological Association argues some of the most stressed become so because their roles are marked by the need to respond to others' demands, timetables and working in a setting that is overly authoritarian or suffering from organizational confusion.

These findings suggest it’s not always the job, but a company’s “always on” culture or environment that can result in employee exhaustion and burn-out. 

One answer to such situations could be creating more work schedules. In one of the latest worldwide, workplace surveys - Vodafone’s Flexible: friend or foe? - 83 per cent of respondents said adopting flexible working produced greater efficiency and 61 percent said it facilitated growing company profits.

Flexibility is no longer just a case of work/life balance: it’s also a matter of health. We can use it to support individuals who may need diverse work styles to lower rising stress and anxiety levels.

Introduce approaches for stress management

According to a 2016 report from Willis Towers Watson, employers worldwide see stress as the foremost workplace issue. Stress is a key cause of nonattendance at work and it can lead to or worsen mental health disorders, as well as other medical conditions if not handled correctly.

It’s to a company’s advantage if it proactively and purposefully handles stress in the workplace. While the short-term reactions to stress are not normally detrimental, ongoing stress can result in long-lasting and expensive issues.

Training managers to spot the signs of stress, how it triggers certain reactions in different individuals and how to break its cycle can stop it from turning into a larger problem, especially for at-risk workers.

Other ways to improve stress management in the workplace include offering mindfulness programs, emphasizing work-life balance or using technology or apps that promote mental breaks.

Make professional support easily accessible
 
Employee assistance programmes (EAPs) are designed to benefit employees with personal problems that might adversely influence their health and well-being, as well as their performance in the workplace.

They offer direct, confidential contact with experts who can support individuals with areas causing emotional distress, from family issues to work-related problems, addiction and mental illness. 

Promoting EAPS can not only help diminish health costs and absenteeism, they’re also one of the ways you can demonstrate mental health assistance has a precedence across all areas of your business.

By introducing EAPs, you’re openly recognizing these are very real concerns that exist in all workplaces. You’re also demonstrating you appreciate your team not only when they’re surpassing expectations, but also when they’re trying to juggle more challenging situations with their daily work schedules.

To create a positive environment that supports both physical and mental health you need to build a general culture of health, with a combination of programs to support your workplace demographic.

These can include flexible working, EAPs, paid time off and other policies to enhance better work/life integration, lunchtime exercise classes and an open-door approach to mental health issues in the workplace.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

Head over to the Virgin Facebook page on October 10th at 4.45pm (BST), where we'll be live streaming a World Mental Health Day panel discussion featuring Poppy Jamie, founder of Happy Not Perfect; Vanessa Boachie, founder and creative director of Inside Out; Andrew Brown, head of corporate partnerships at CALM; and Vanessa King, positive psychologist, author and board member for Action for Happiness.

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