Business in the Community (BITC) 2019 reported 40% of employees have experienced poor mental health where work was a contributing factor in the previous year. This figure may well rise this year due to the impact of COVID-19. So, do you have systems in place to support staff emotional wellbeing? And are you doing enough to encourage and enable your staff to take this up?
These are the factors to consider when reviewing provision for staff emotional wellbeing.
1. Ensure your staff have access to high quality psychological support.
If you have an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) you probably think you have this covered. However, it is important to be clear about how much support is offered and by whom. For many, some short-term counselling or cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) will be sufficient. But there will be a number of staff with more significant mental health problems that require a longer-term intervention by a psychological therapist with extensive training and experience in mental health. Clinical and Counselling Psychologists are trained to Doctoral level and one of the few psychological professionals who’s governance is properly regulated.
If you don’t have an EAP, it is worth engaging with an independent Clinical or Counselling Psychologist to provide individual support for your employees emotional wellbeing. I do this for a number of businesses. It shows that you value your staff and are keen to look after their wellbeing (see culture below). And it makes good business sense. I have supported people to return to work after a period off due to mental ill health. And provided others with better strategies for managing their mental health to prevent deterioration and time off.
But even if you have an adequate EAP offer in place, it does not mean that staff will access it. So, what else do you need to do to encourage engagement?
2. Encourage a culture in which people can be open about emotional wellbeing.
The last couple of years has seen a significant increase in openness in talking about mental health in general. But people are still concerned about how it will be perceived in the workplace if they admit to struggling emotionally. The BITC 2019 report identified that only 44% of employees would feel comfortable talking to their line manager about their own mental health. Most concerningly, almost one in ten employees who had disclosed a mental health problem reported being dismissed, demoted or disciplined. Even though EAPs are confidential, employees are often still concerned about the potential impact of seeking help.
So, encouraging a culture that allows mental health to be discussed openly and without judgement is crucial in ensuring your staff make use of the support offers. It is incredibly powerful to have senior people in the organisation be open about their own struggles. Engaging with national and international initiatives that focus on mental health (e.g. World Mental Health Day) is also helpful. Is staff emotional wellbeing a key aspect of the organisation’s workforce strategy? And are you regularly measuring this in some way to know if the organisation is improving? All these aspects will demonstrate to employees that this is a place where it is safe for them to be honest about their emotional wellbeing.
3. Ensure your employees are aware of the signs of emotional distress.
EAPs tend to rely on people self-identifying that they have issues that would warrant support and can be helped through accessing counselling or therapy. But many people struggle to understand their emotional experiences and may ‘cope’ with their emotions through unhealthy use of alcohol, drugs or other avoidant behaviours. People may not recognise that symptoms they are experiencing are typical of a mental health condition. And may not be aware that psychological interventions are proven to be effective.
Therefore, it is important to include awareness-raising about staff emotional wellbeing and mental health in your strategy. Workshops can be an effective way of sharing this information. However, this may mean you get a self-selected group in attendance and you may miss those who are struggling but feel concerned about showing that. Webinars are a flexible, effective and cost-efficient way of reaching a large number of employees in a way that enables people to join anonymously. And are especially relevant to an increasingly home based remote workforce.
4. Ensure your managers know how to respond to someone who may be struggling.
So, a staff member has become aware they are struggling emotionally and have taken the brave step to be open with their manager. I would argue that how the manager responds is crucial in determining the subsequent outcome. If the manager is able to respond in a supportive, non-judgemental way and make necessary adjustments to support the individual at work, then the outcome is likely to be much more favourable for the individual and the organisation. The BITC (2019) report indicated that only 11% of managers in the UK have received training on understanding workplace stressors and 70% reported there were barriers to them providing mental health support. This highlights that training, as well as, examining systemic factors that prevent supporting employees are crucial.
So, supporting staff emotional wellbeing is more complex than providing an EAP. It is essential to have this at the core of the business strategy; leading from the top but also encouraging bottom-up initiatives. Fostering a culture in which people feel safe about disclosing mental health concerns as well as being supported appropriately both individually and in terms of a systemic response is vital.
Hopefully, your organisation is providing all these aspects. But if you would like to discuss anything further, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me.