Mental health in the workplace can be a touchy subject in some businesses. Do we want to know that John in Accounts is going through a rough patch, or we might be scared that if we speak to Claire in IT, we’ll be roped into helping her all the time? For businesses, a decision has to be explicitly made as to whether they include mental wellbeing in the core of their ethos, pay lip service to mental wellbeing, or retain an archaic approach and do, well, nothing. But, it is the first type of business that we all want to work for, surely?
The mental health stigma still stands to some degree; subconsciously, or maybe otherwise. But, whether it is in an employee-employer relationship or peer-to-peer, we’re still struggling to talk openly about mental health in the workplace.
In a study conducted by Mind.org; less than half of individuals diagnosed with mental ill health had disclosed this to their manager. But why?
For the purposes of this piece, I wanted to concentrate on the employee-employer relationship… yes, we’re going in the right direction, but many of the fears around speaking about mental health in the workplace are still at play from both the employee and the employer.
The employee fears that they will face negative repercussions by letting the employer know of their struggle. Anxiety creeps in as to whether their competence will be questioned, will that big client be taken from them, what happens if the trust is lost?
The employer fears that by asking employees about their mental wellbeing, they’re entering an HR no-man's-land. What if they’re having a ‘bad day’, can I say this, is it best left unsaid and avoided, surely they’ll be back to “normal” soon?
So we don’t talk about it. We avoid making eye contact and we question, vaguely, whilst awkwardly talking about our weekend plans.
Yet in my experience there's been an opportunity to bridge the gap between the employees’ vulnerability and the employers reluctance to ask whereby the employee lets the employer know that they are struggling and to bear with them whilst they work through their fight, and the employer genuinely cares about the employee’s wellbeing.
This is the workplace that we must strive for. Whereby a casual conversation about which therapist you’re seeing is the norm over lunch, and the employer asking the question ‘how are you outside of work?’, and taking a genuine interest is standard and encouraged(!) in a 1-2-1.
Mind.org: “people can worry about how to approach a conversation about a person’s mental health but there are no special skills needed – just the ones you use every day as a people manager like common sense, empathy, being approachable and listening.”
To achieve this, we need to push mental health awareness to the forefront and keep on discussing it.
It is the employers’ responsibility to provide a genuinely caring environment where employees feel safe - and confident enough - to bring their struggle to the surface knowing that they will be respected and heard. But, it is the employees’ responsibility to give their employer the chance to listen.
In a world where it is commonplace to enlist the help of a personal trainer to help get our bodies in shape, surely we can be as open about seeing a therapist to get our mind in shape?