Mental health comes in all shapes and sizes and can lead to employees having a drop in productivity and increased absenteeism, ultimately damaging the business, says Jenine Butroid. She explains how companies can combat the current mental health crisis
With data from the UK’s Office for National Statistics revealing that depression rates doubled since the Covid-19 pandemic began, it has never been more important for business leaders to step up and address how mental health is dealt with in the workplace.
Over the past two years, business owners have seen how vital employee welfare is to a business’s success. The fact of the matter is, if you want a high-performing company, you need resilient and healthy employees. Employees want an employer to champion mental health and wellbeing, and an employer has a duty of care to ensure their health, safety and wellbeing under health and safety legislation.
Mental health issues affect everyone differently. For example, anxiety caused by a poor work-life balance, lack of support and unobtainable targets can cause people to lose concentration, making it difficult to multi-task, carry out day-to-day work activities and reach their goals. Depression at work, which can be caused by boredom or feeling unfulfilled, can also lead to mental and physical health concerns, absenteeism, or a loss of productivity. However, by addressing mental health issues early on, business leaders can reduce and potentially help solve these issues and allow you to thrive at work.
Create a culture of wellness
Creating a culture of wellness is a great place to start for business leaders looking to address mental health issues. First and foremost, I recommend improving your employees’ job satisfaction. To create excellent job satisfaction, I suggest creating a collaborative environment where employees can bring their ideas forward, work with colleague mentors, and encourage professional growth and development for others. Also, offer opportunities for ongoing learning in areas of employee interest, and help employees see how their efforts contribute to the company’s larger goals, values, and impact on the world. When a person’s job satisfaction goes up, so does their overall mental health and self-esteem. So, remember, when people feel engaged at work, everything feels more meaningful and authentically aligned with our values and aspirations.
Another way to create a great culture at work is to allow people a healthy work-life balance. This reduces stress, generates more positive engagement with work, and will enable people to catch up on much-needed sleep. That may sound silly, but when we are sleep deprived, the amygdala – a part of the brain that regulates mood and emotion – does not function properly and makes us vulnerable to depression and anxiety. So, all those late-night work hours, particularly involving screen time, disrupt our natural circadian rhythm by impeding the production of melatonin, our natural sleep aid, and replacing it with adrenaline and cortisol. So, set a culture of daily balance whenever possible, and provide adequate vacation time and paid time off for balance over the long haul. Finally, assess your behaviour as a leader; actions speak louder than words, and the behaviour of the leaders sets the tone. If you are always working, it is likely your employees will follow.
Finally, connect with people and do not allow them to feel isolated. As humans, we benefit from connection over isolation, support over shame, and information over ignorance. Many people fear talking openly about their struggles because they fear being judged or professionally punished. This can force people to go inside themselves, which escalates mental health issues and solutions to problems much harder to access.
It is critical to reduce the stigma around mental health within your organisation. Whether a business is large or small, talking openly about mental health pays off. By offering workshops and seminars with experts and creating opportunities for people to share their personal stories, people will feel confident knowing that it is okay not to feel okay. Top-down modelling is effective here as well. When leaders share their mental health challenges and successes, employees feel empowered to do the same. As humans, we thrive on feeling supported by each other and knowing we are not alone. So, looking after your staff will decrease personal suffering and increase creativity, productivity, longevity, and organisational loyalty.
Be a compassionate leader
As a boss or manager, you do not have to be a mental health expert. However, spotting mental health problems so you can support employees who may be struggling is a great skill to have. There are some common signs of depression and anxiety that business leaders and managers can learn to recognise. You may see decreased productivity and creativity, difficulty making decisions, and memory trouble. A depressed employee may work more slowly, make more errors due to brain fog and reduced executive functioning, and may be less participatory due to social withdrawal and a drop in confidence and self-esteem.
It is also possible to see physical signs of agitation and tension. Someone with anxiety will usually be experiencing persistent and excessive worry and a lack of cognitive flexibility, all of which may impede their ability to problem-solve and work efficiently through tasks. Watch for signs of panic attacks, such as shortness of breath and a flushed face, and for patterns of avoidance or absenteeism.
Provide employees access to direct care
The care you provide employees may depend on the size of your company and your available resources. For example, larger businesses can provide health insurance with good mental and behavioural health benefits, like an in-house therapist or can bring in mental health experts to provide psychoeducation, support groups, and workshops to develop coping skills. However, if you are a smaller organisation and don’t have enough funding to develop such programmes, you can allow employees to leave work for mental health appointments or seek out easily accessible, low-cost resources like cheaper therapy solutions and offer them to your employees as a health benefit. For example, at Supporting Minds, our sole purpose is to make much-needed talking therapies affordable and accessible. We do not believe money should ever be an obstacle to healing, so we offer online therapy sessions for as little as £15 GBP.
Leaders who are serious about developing themselves to provide a compassionate leadership style and are open to listening and responding to their employees’ needs, will develop more resilient and successful companies.
Jenine Butroid is the founder and CEO of Supporting Minds, a counselling service providing a range of professionally recognised training and therapy services. Founded in 2014, Jenine set up the business with the sole purpose of making talking therapies accessible through a range of affordable, quality services. Supporting Minds has rapidly grown over the years, training over 450 counsellors and supporting over 4,000 clients with its ethical therapy. It is now expanding into franchising to offer therapy that supports, empowers and values individuals across the UK.