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How to protect mental health whilst boosting productivity

What business doesn’t want to identify ways to boost their productivity? Historically, perhaps this meant asking people to work harder and for longer and if they couldn’t they’d get people who could. But this isn’t a cost effective or ethical model.

It’s widely recognised looking after the health and wellbeing of your employees is critical to long term business success. Staff who feel valued, safe, trusted and well looked after will stay with you for longer and are more likely to repay you in discretionary effort, boosting your productivity.

There is no health without mental health which is why many businesses are beginning to adopt proactive ways to manage mental health at work. Good work is good for our overall health and even more so for our mental health. We spend around a third of our lives in the workplace so it is important for employers to create safe, pleasant and positive work environments that enable staff members to flourish and thrive.

Sadly, there are times where life’s challenges overwhelm us. Perhaps it is a work deadlines, a bad relationship with a manager or financial pressures at home. According to research carried out by the Mental Health Foundation the value added to the economy by people who are at work and have or have had mental health problems is as high as £225 billion per year, which represents 12.1% of the UK’s total GDP.

It is vitally important for businesses to safeguard that value, support those with existing mental health problems, protect those at risk and manage the workforce as a whole to avoid mental health issues having a negative impact on productivity.

Recognising the signs

Mental health issues have a lot of different signs and symptoms. People might start behaving out of character, making more mistakes, become short-tempered and start arriving late for work. We might see people isolating themselves, appearing distracted or they may become frenzied and take on more work than they can manage.

However, the signs of distress manifest themselves it is important they are picked up at any early stage so the person can receive support at the earliest possible stage. Don’t be afraid of asking people if they are ok, if they say, ‘I’m fine’ ask again but this time ask, ‘are you REALLY ok’? They may still say ‘I’m fine’ but let them know you are there to talk to when they are ready. Just be genuine and sincere. It all starts with asking someone how they are doing in a warm and authentic way.

Train line managers

Many line managers don’t have the skills or confidence to adequately support the mental health of their teams. Yet line managers still face these difficulties every day. It is vitally important businesses seek to provide appropriate training to upskill line managers, so they feel more prepared to have supportive conversations with their teams about their mental health.

Reasonable adjustments

Intended to remove a barrier of the job that exacerbates an individual’s mental health issue. Examples:

  • Changing a person’s position in an office space to a quieter area, near natural light to suit more introverted personality types or to help manage seasonal affective disorder.
  • Allowing an employee to commute outside of peak hours to help manage social anxiety.
  • Allowing people time during work hours to access professional mental health services

Support people during absence

There is often a real fear about the level of contact that is acceptable to make when an employee is off work because of a mental health issue. Many believe by contacting the person during a leave of absence you are invading their privacy and causing more harm than good. This is rarely the case.

Being absent from work can be very isolating so keeping in touch and letting someone know you care is a great way to prevent any awkwardness prior to them returning to work. During the leave of absence, you’ll need to agree with the person how much information about their absence they wish to share with the rest of team. Ask them if it is ok to give them a call every few days to see if there is anything you can do to support them. Send them a card or gift from the team to let them know you are still thinking about them. All these small gestures will mean a massive amount to the person on leave and increase the chance of a successful return to work. Feeling so valued and cared for during the leave of absence will often be repaid back in productivity terms when the person returns to work.

Develop a mental health strategy

One stop mental health interventions rarely deliver the impact you are after. In some instances, they do more harm than good as the message can come across as a half-hearted attempt to tick the mental health box. Be prepared to take the plunge rather than just dipping your toe.

Ensure senior leaders are bought in and fully on board first. This endorsement speaks volumes and sends an important message trickling down throughout the business that it’s ok not to be ok. If you can get a senior leader to speak out about their personal mental health journey that can often act as a catalyst for change and begin a sizeable shift in how mental health is viewed culturally in the business.

Create a small working group of mental health advocates who can develop and drive your strategy forward. One of their first task should be to focus on identifying the key areas of need. Make use of existing company data (absence statistics, staff turnover and exit interviews, staff engagement scores etc) There won’t be an off the shelf, one size fits all mental health strategy. It needs to be tailored to the specific needs of your business. Seek employee input throughout, give people a voice and some sense of control in shaping your approach.

You may wish to consider partnering with an external vendor to support you in the creation and development of your strategy. Healthy Performance have a suite of mental health support tools to help businesses build robust, meaningful strategies that boost productivity.

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