Talking about Mental Health can be a challenge for anyone, especially SMEs. But with research showing that UK businesses could save up to £8 billion per year by better understanding and supporting mental health in the workplace, the conversation is shifting at speed.
This summer, Optix Solutions joined the worldwide Mindful Employer network to encourage wellness and support resilience in the workplace. Here’s why.
One of our team has a serious mental health condition (we asked permission to reference them in this blog). They informed us of their condition before accepting our job offer, detailing what it was, how it affects them and what they required from us as a business to work effectively with them.
We were surprised to hear about their previous negative experience with employers. It could get so bad that they would either hide the illness or disability at a detriment to themselves.
Optix has always strived to be an employer that is warm, welcoming, inclusive and providing of an environment that people feel immediately at home in. Supporting an employee with a serious mental health condition wasn’t something we’d had to deal with before so we needed to do our research.
We soon discovered that you don’t need to know the condition inside out to be supportive of someone. We aren’t medical professionals. It is not necessary to be completely clued up to show a member of the team that you value them. Here is our short guide – the three C’s, to help pass on some of the knowledge and experience we’ve picked up over time.
The 3 C’s
Your employees are entitled to reasonable adjustments.
This can cause a little panic in the management ranks. ‘What is a reasonable adjustment?’ or ‘What do I have to do?’ & ‘How much will that cost’.
Don’t panic. Reasonable adjustments are changes you can make to someone’s working environment that enable them to do their job easily and productively, helping them to manage their health in the work place.
This could be;
- Allowing a person to start later or earlier if they are having a particularly difficult time getting into the office
- Providing transportation if required – for example; a taxi to the office
- Working from home
- Temporary reduction in hours
- Time off for medical appointments / treatment
- Temporary or permanent amends in responsibilities
- Additional breaks
- A phased return to work from any sick leave
- Providing a laptop to work from home
- A mobile phone instead of a desk phone to make and take work related calls in a private area instead of at their desk
- Providing an adjustable desk
Adaptive Working Environment
- Changing work stations
- Providing a different management style depending on the person’s needs and condition
- Provide a parking space
- Additional training
There is a difficult balancing act with mental health in that people do not want to be called out for being different or treated differently. However, at the same time their needs may be different to a person without a condition or disability.
So how do you bring consistency?
Your team culture will determine how you offer consistent support. But there are few things you can implement easily;
Get to know your employees
Get to know how your employees like to work, communicate and generally fit into the team so you can offer a more consistent approach.
We’ve introduced quarterly reviews rather than yearly, so people can talk to us on a more regular basis. Each meeting covers the same questions, so everyone is offered the opportunity to express positive and negative feedback. We try to ensure this is as relaxed as possible.
It’s important to note that this isn’t the only opportunity for employees to come and talk to us. Three months can be a long time, so we also offer employees the option to have regular meetings with their manager – whether this is weekly, fortnightly or monthly. The directors doors are also always open.
Although it’s a small thing, we have a meeting room that is filled with sofas and fake grass – it isn’t such a formal environment and can help lower anxiety levels.
We allow everyone the same time and flexibility for medical appointments – regardless of what the medical appointment is for, allowing each staff member allotted time will ensure no one feels like you’re providing special treatment. It’s not unreasonable to provide a limit of hours someone can take for medical appointments as long as if this is exceeded, the person has the opportunity to make the time up rather than not be paid for that time.
It can be extremely daunting for a person to come to you and tell you they are unwell, especially if they feel it could hinder their job progression.
Just as it is daunting for them, it can be difficult as an employer or someone who has no experience with mental health conditions or disability, to know what to say.
Keep it simple
If you don’t understand, don’t pretend you do. Sometimes saying ‘it’s okay, we’ll figure this out together’ is enough.
Often, we think asking ‘how are you?’, ‘Are you okay?’ etc is a good way of finding out what’s going on with someone. But I’m sure the average response is ‘I’m fine’ or ‘yeah I’m okay’.
Be brave in asking more questions and be willing to listen to their answer. For example; ‘how are you feeling today?’, ‘how did your doctor’s appointment go?’, ‘how are you getting on with XYZ?’, ‘is there anything I can help you with?’
This can also help you uncover if anything is happening outside work that may have an impact in how they behave, work and feel in the office.
Make a plan
When someone is experiencing mental health challenges, they can encounter a range of emotions. From feeling overwhelmed or guilty for struggling, to worrying they might let others down or wanting to do their work despite how it may be affecting their health. This can contribute to a sense of vulnerability and feeling disconnected from the team and work itself.
To support someone through this, the best thing to do is to plan. Not just a plan of action but also a plan of inaction.
Work with your HR representative and your employee to recognise positive and negative triggers and responses within the work place so you can collaboratively create a plan that works for all of you and helps your team member to feel valued.
Mindful Employer is a nationwide charity that helps support businesses of all sizes to manage mental health and disability in the work place with advice, documents and more. We’ve signed the charter to officially work towards becoming a Mindful Employer, discover what’s involved here: http://www.mindfulemployer.net/
For more information on how you can support your employees, we recommend contacting Access to Work. They support employers and employees with mental health and disability in the work place, offering advice, reviews and assessments so you and your employee can get the support you’re entitled to.
- Optix Topix Mental Health Awareness vlog