Breaking down the stigma about mental health at work
Despite the fact that mental health conditions cost US companies over 200 million workdays and $16.8 billion lost in productivity, the stigma surrounding mental health still makes it a topic people avoid talking about in the workplace. In fact, employees who take time off as a result of stress often name a different reason such as a headache to hide their condition from their colleagues and managers. What’s even more alarming is that according to the recent Mental Health at Work study 80% of US employees with a mental health condition report that shame and stigma prevent them from seeking treatment.
Mental health is not just a personal concern, it’s a wider business issue that needs to be addressed and managed. Ignorance of mental health in the workplace can negatively impact employee turnover and engagement, especially with Millennials and Generation Z who have higher turnover rates and represent the largest demographics in the workforce. And most importantly, it needs to be talked about. Thursday 10th October 2019 was Mental Health Awareness Day, aiming to educate and raise awareness of mental health issues and leaders have a critical role to play when it comes to changing attitudes towards mental health in the workplace.
Building a culture of acceptance
Any organisational change needs to start from the top and mental health initiatives are no different. Mental health, just like diversity and inclusion, is not an isolated HR issue – it needs to be supported by the organisation’s culture and leaders need to be advocates for the change. When leaders set the tone for transparency and open up about their own vulnerabilities during team interactions, they become authentic allies rather than an authority. Authentic leaders who admit to their own mental health related challenges and failures on their path to success can win over their colleagues, create a new level of engagement and an environment of psychological safety where people feel comfortable to talk openly about mental health. Learning about leadership mistakes and challenges also helps other team members to be motivated to improve their own performance.
Around 60% of employees in the UK experience mental health issues due to work or where work is a related factor, and 31% have been formally diagnosed with a mental health issue. However, only 24% of managers receive training in mental health. Whilst there is no “one size fits all solution” when it comes to dealing with situations related to mental health, leaders need to be equipped with the basic knowledge and tools for difficult conversations, as well as ways to recognise and respond to employees who might be struggling.
Setting a solid foundation
To make employees feel supported and comfortable to talk about mental health, organisations need to offer the right resources and make all employees aware that there is support available. Mental health benefits need to be supported by the right policies, management training and attitudes regularly measured to ensure accountability. Anonymous surveys or employee resource groups supported by the leadership team can also help to build a work culture where employees feel safe to open up about mental health and therefore provide all available support as issues emerge, instead of using a reactive approach.
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