It’s no secret that workplace stresses are, for many people, something that has an impact on their mental health. According to the mental health organisation Mind, 14% of people said they had resigned from their role due to the effects workplace stress had on them, while 42% had considered it at some point. The same research confirmed that over half of the employers, 56% to be precise, said they want to do more to improve staff wellbeing, but don't feel they have the right training or guidance to do so.
So, what are some of the signs that employers should be looking out for when trying to identify struggling employees and how can they work to improve things for these staff members?
How To Identify the Symptoms
One of the very first steps in promoting a positive mental health atmosphere for your employees is being able to recognise when an employee needs your help. A good first step to take is to issue an anonymous wellbeing survey to staff.
In doing this, you get an overview of the mental wellbeing of your workplace and can see any trends in how employees are feeling and identify any company-wide issues that may be putting an irregular strain on multiple people. It is vital here that staff don’t simply give yes or no answers. Make sure they are encouraged to elaborate on their answers by reinforcing that it is anonymous and that they won’t be personally identifiable.
After all, the only way that you can make actionable changes in the workplace for your staff is if you know what they feel.
How to Recognise If Someone Is Struggling
When it comes to recognising struggling employees, it can be tricky, given that everyone is different, not everyone shows any signs and some people are very good at hiding what they are feeling. There are, however, three core symptom areas that you should be looking out for. Significant changes in any of these areas could be an indication that someone is struggling mentally.
These symptoms can be the most difficult to detect in someone. Changes in someone’s mood is normal – when it becomes a problem is when these changes seem overly sudden or out of character for that individual. Indecision, aggression, bad memory recall and low self-confidence, for example, are all signs that someone may be suffering mentally and could use your support.
One of the perhaps more obvious signs that someone is suffering may be in the physical symptoms they exhibit. For example, if they appear overly sluggish, suddenly gain/lose weight or start suffering from sudden and unexplained aches and pains, these may all be symptoms of deteriorating mental health.
If an employee suddenly exhibits signs such as extreme eating habits, suddenly taking increased absences, withdrawing from social media or no longer caring about the appearance, they may be showing some serious signs of mental illness.
How to Discuss an Employee’s Mental Health
As a manager or employer, you must support your staff who need help with their mental health. Once you’ve reached out to the employee in question, you must prepare yourself for the meeting.
It is also important that you are not a licensed mental health professional. Do some research to have a basic understanding of how your employee might be feeling or the best way to approach the discussion, but avoid making assumptions or attempting to ‘diagnose’ them.
As their manager your job is to calmly address the issues you’ve seen and the concerns you have, as well as listening to what that employee has to say. The employee may already be aware they need to seek help, may simply be seeking guidance on the next steps or may even already know how you can help them.
The most important things here are this: listen and have an open dialogue.
Steps You Can Take to Improve
There are many ways that you can adapt and make common adjustments to accommodate staff experiencing ill mental health.
Some of the most minor may include minor adjustments to their working schedule, environments or their responsibilities. For example:
Allowing more breaks when needed, not on a pre-determined schedule
Allow (within reason) flexible starting and finishing times
Offer a phased return to work
Allow part-time working temporarily
Review their workload and make any changes
Spread some of their work amongst the team for extra support
Provide partitions, room dividers etc. to offer barriers between workspaces
Offer homeworking for some of the week
Allow them a little more ‘personal workspace.’
Position them as far away as possible from noisy collages or machinery
Provide a private space for them to use when they need privacy or feel overwhelmed
By making some of these small changes, you are going to make your employees feel more supported and appreciated during what is likely going to be a difficult time for them. By making this extra effort for your employees, you’re also ensuring that they will be more motivated in the future once they recover, as well as helping your company’s reputation as being an employer who cares.
Chris Smith is a writer and blogger. Over his career, he has written for several high profile publications, including The Guardian, The Telegraph, and The Huffington Post. He writes about sport and finance on his website, Spend It Like Beckham.