A Guide to Mental Health Care in the Workplace – Part Two

In last month’s blog, we shared information from the CIPD and Mind’s 2018 Guide for Mental Health at Work. We looked at what mental health is for different people, the fact that it doesn’t necessarily affect performance and intelligence, and the benefits of recruiting people who may have poor mental health.

This month, we focus on spotting the signs, keeping employees safe and able to cope with manageable levels of stress, and how to help them maintain good mental health. 

It makes good business sense to look after your staff. After all, they are one of your most valuable assets, even without considering your legal obligations. You are not expected to diagnose or treat your staff; simply offer them the best support and signpost them to the right place for professional treatment where necessary (usually through their GP in the first instance). Mental health training will help your managers to carry this support out effectively.

Spotting the Signs of Stress and Poor Mental Health

Spotting the signs of stress or poor mental health early can often nip the problem in the bud before things get worse, become harder to deal with, often ending in long periods of sickness absence. However, according to the CIPD’s 2016 research, the causes are often complex and usually a mix of work and home issues. For that reason, managers should be alert to potential workplace triggers, such as:

  • people working long hours and not taking breaks
  • unrealistic expectations or deadlines
  • high-pressure environments
  • unmanageable workloads or lack of control over work
  • negative relationships or poor communication
  • an unsupportive workplace culture or lack of management support
  • job insecurity or poor change management
  • high-risk roles
  • lone working.

Of course, there are many other reasons outside of the workplace that can impact on people’s stresses and mental health, such as being a carer for an ill or elderly family member, having a long-term physical health condition, living in poor housing, or experiencing trauma such as being the victim of a violent crime. These are just a few examples.

Know Your Staff!

Line managers who hold regular catch-ups are far more likely to spot signs of stress or poor mental health early. The usual signs are a change in typical behaviour. Obviously, everyone is different, but typical indicators include:

Physical Psychological Behavioural
Fatigue Anxiety or distress Increased smoking
and drinking
or upset
Tearfulness Using recreational
Headaches Feeling low

Appetite and
weight changes
Mood changes Resigned attitude
Joint and
back pain
Indecision Irritability, anger or
Changes in
Loss of motivation Over-excitement or
tension or
Loss of humour Restlessness
Increased sensitivity Lateness, leaving
early or extended
Chest or
throat pain
Distraction or confusion Working far longer
Sweating Difficulty relaxing Intense or obsessive activity
feeling cold
Memory lapses Repetitive speech or activity
  Illogical or irrational
thought processes
Impaired or inconsistent
  Difficulty taking information in Uncharacteristic
  Responding to
sensations or people
not observable by
Increased sickness absence
  Increased suicidal thoughts Uncharacteristic problems with colleagues
    Apparent over-reaction to
    Disruptive or anti-social

Simply asking how someone is helps to open the conversation. One person said:

“What made a huge difference was being asked if I was okay – simple as that. I don’t seek out people to tell, it’s not in my introspective nature. Without being too drama queen about it, I would have left work by now without her support, and wouldn’t be going back to anything, and probably would be self-destructing right now.”

When supporting staff, it’s important not to label people by focusing on a diagnosis. Instead, talk to them about how it impacts on their work. Through early conversations, managers can identify what support or adjustments can be made. As the CIPD and Mind’s report states: “Basic good people management and the use of empathy and common sense by managers lie at the heart of effective management of mental health in the workplace.”

Broaching the Subject

Mental health is a sensitive subject to discuss, but most people who are experiencing poor mental health prefer genuine enquiries that lead on to confidential conversations in a private, quiet setting. Make sure your managers have excellent people skills, combined with empathy and common sense, so that they engender trust with the employee and can deal with the conversations effectively.

When having these conversations, avoid interruptions – close the door and switch off phones. Ask simple, open, non-judgemental questions. Speak calmly, maintain good eye contact and listen actively. Encourage the employee to talk. Focus on the person, not the problem. Be prepared for some silences and avoid making assumptions. Finally, follow up in writing with agreed actions and a date for another meeting.

Create a WAP

A Wellness Action Plan is not a legal requirement. However, it can be helpful for your organisation if managers encouraged staff to draw one up for themselves. It reminds both the individual and your managers what is needed to support them to stay well at work, including any adjustments that can be made. A template is available on page 40 of the PDF of the People Managers’ Guide to Mental Health available from this link.

Supporting a Successful Return to Work

Sometimes, an employee may need time off work to recover. Effectively managing a period of sickness absence is key to shaping how quickly people can return to work and get back to peak performance.

It’s especially important to manage and support someone with a mental health problem when they are off sick for periods of two weeks or longer. During this time, the line manager should agree with the employee how often and how they communicate – for example by telephone, email or home visit. Ideally, set out the importance of this contact in your absence management policy so managers and employees are clear about the need to maintain contact. If the manager is the source of the individual’s distress, another member of staff or someone in HR should be the person that maintains contact.

When the employee is ready to return, carry out a return-to-work interview and reassure the employee that they can have a phased return. This is a good time to discuss their needs and concerns. Quite often, people become alienated and lose confidence when they’re off sick, so these interviews are an ideal time to reassure them that they were missed and will be supported back.

Keep in mind that many people with mental health conditions are often high performers. This should not negate their need for support and empathy.

Lead by Example

For the whole organisation to thrive in a productive and stress-free environment, you and your managers should lead by example. Actively encourage your teams to adopt healthier working habits by working sensible hours, taking full lunch breaks, taking annual leave, and resting after busy periods.

Be available for regular catch-ups to maintain good working relationships and build mutual trust. Check how staff are getting on, and create space where issues can be raised about home and work life. Offer opportunities for learning and development, which also helps them gain skills and confidence.

And finally, continue to raise awareness of mental health. Challenge stigma and prejudice, don’t allow bullying, and create an environment of inclusivity and trust. This, ultimately, will help your organisation to become more successful.

Meanwhile, Quadriga’s team of experts are here to help with any queries you may have. For more information, please contact us on 0118 929 9920 or click here to email us.

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