Navigating mental ill health in the workplace

Navigating mental ill health in the workplace

CABA has some advice for those seeking to spot mental health problems in the workplace, and how to create workplaces which promote wellbeing. Produced by Accountancy Age in partnership with CABA

It is estimated that mental ill health costs the UK about £99bn per year. Mental illnesses including stress, anxiety and depression made up 44% of all illnesses recorded in UK workplaces in the years 2017-18. Yet recent efforts to raise awareness have not improved the situation. According to a survey from the Labour Force, work-related mental health issues have slowly trended upwards since 2014/15.

Employers have a duty of care towards their employees, which is a legal responsibility under the Health and Safety Acts. This means taking appropriate action where employees need help and support and creating a workplace culture which promotes wellbeing and allows people to flourish.

But what can employers do to tackle any problems when they do arise, and how can they create the right environment to prevent cases of mental ill health  as much as possible?

Signs to look out for:

Signs that someone in the workplace is struggling with their mental health may differ from person to person. The key thing to look out for is any change in someone’s usual behaviour. These may include:

  • Reduced performance and cognitive ability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Making more mistakes than usual
  • Poor timekeeping or increased sickness
  • Physical symptoms, including frequent headaches or aches and pains
  • Change in habits, such as increased smoking or drinking

How to approach the topic with an employee:

Kirsty Lilley, a Psychotherapist & mental health expert with CABA, says that it is important that senior members of the organisation lead conversations about mental health issues so that others know they too can speak up. This should be built into the organisation’s daily working life rather than treated as a separate entity.

If you are concerned about another employee, take an invitational approach by saying something open-ended such as “I’ve noticed you’ve not been yourself recently.” It is important to consider your relationship with this person – are you close? If you’re their manager, bear in mind that this may be overwhelming if the conversation takes place in a formal setting.

The first thing a manager can do to help is to see if there are any practical arrangements which could make things easier for that person. A manager should also carry out a stress risk assessment on that person’s role – what are the factors that could be preventing them from thriving? How could these barriers be removed?

Next, work with that person to devise a plan of action. This may involve small adjustments such as flexible working or changes to their role, which can be adopted on a temporary basis. These measures can be reviewed and monitored as time goes on. At the same time, the manager should point the employee towards services including CABA support lines or any internal counselling services which are available, or recommend that they visit their GP if appropriate. There are a wealth of courses, help and guides available for free through CABA. These cover topics from how to get a good night’s sleep to more information about invisible illnesses.

Creating an open and supportive culture

Poppy Jaman, CEO of City Mental Health Alliance, said: “We know with mental ill-health that prevention and early intervention are key factors in determining positive outcomes.”

But while many organisations are now taking some measures, the real causes of mental ill health in the workplace often remain unaddressed in favour of superficial gimmicks.

Kirsty Lilley points out that while many offer perks such as free yoga sessions, these organisations are often less keen to address the culture which has created mental ill health in the first place.

“We need to be weaving questions about wellbeing into all of our management practices and personal development, asking “how is this role impacting you?” and “How are you feeling about the demands of the role at the moment?” she said.

It is the organisation’s responsibility to manage the psycho-social factors that impact on people’s mental health at work.

That is still true even if an employee is experiencing problems due to external factors.

All organisations should ask how decisions will affect employees and put coping strategies in place if needed.

Some things people find difficult include:

  • Unspoken demands, such as the expectation that someone is always available out of hours
  • Long hours as the only route to promotion or bonuses
  • Lack of information and support
  • Lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities
  • Lack of autonomy or influence
  • Conflict or bullying
  • Excessive pace of change and lack of employee engagement in the change, or adequate communication about it

We know that environment has a big impact on wellbeing. Employers can follow the Health and Safety Executive’s Management Standards – a set of guidelines which outline a best practice approach on how to risk assess the factors that impact on people’s mental health at work.

Finally, employers should remember they have something to gain if they look after their employees’ wellbeing.

“There is a lot of research to say that people who are well perform better, they are engaged, they are motivated, they are loyal, they have social/corporate responsibility to their employer; they’re going to focus a lot better, they are going to stay longer, so it is beneficial to look after their health. It makes good business sense,” Kirsty Lilley said.

  • Help and support at CABA is free, impartial and confidential, and available to past and present ICAEW members, current ACA students, ICAEW staff members and family carers of members and students. Visit the website for more advice and information, or here for a full list of courses and events currently available at CABA.



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