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Mental Health First Aid England states that nearly a fifth of working age adults are experiencing anxiety, stress or depression at any one time. A quarter of us will experience mental ill health at some time in our lives. What does mental health at work mean for employers?

The effects

Anxious, depressed or stressed employees tend to take more time off work, can be demotivated at work and lack concentration.

In consequence, poor mental health can mean low productivity, dysfunctional teams, poor retention, and high absenteeism. It damages growth and profit.

Danger signs

Don’t allow stress, anxiety and depression to take over. There can be early signs:

Symptoms can include: negative attitudes, poor responses to work demands and unforced mistakes. Such symptoms can be overlooked, and even taken as the norm in certain circumstances. Other signs to watch for:

  • Submerged conflict in the workplace; employees not being challenged when they should be challenged.
  • Excessive conflict in the workplace; employees being challenged when not justified.
  • A previously high performing employee who suddenly is not performing.

People at particular risk

  • Lone workers
  • Employees in high pressure environments
  • Employees not coping with their responsibilities
  • New employees struggling with their work or the organisation’s culture
  • Employees subject to traumatic events
  • Employees dealing with, or subject to, frequent conflict
  • Those who may stand out for some reason. They could be subject to bullying, harassment or discrimination. Such treatment can often be subtle.

Suggested action points

  • Monitor workloads; don’t overload the “willing horse”.
  • Watch for people who are not coping.
  • Develop an effective induction programme.
  • Encourage breaks at work and from work.
  • Encourage a supportive workplace.
  • Seek to avoid role ambiguity – job descriptions can help.
  • Have clear reporting relationships.

Make sure you have clear policies on:

  • Grievance
  • Equal opportunities
  • Bullying and harassment
  • Whistle blowing
  • Guard your own unconscious bias
  • Engender a culture of respect
  • Don’t sweep mental health under the carpet. Respect confidentiality but be open where possible.

It is important to also remember that mental ill health can be a disability and that sufferers can be protected from many forms of discrimination (including harassment) under the Equality Act.

Malcolm Martin FCIPD

Author Human Resource Practice

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