“Mental wellbeing at work – How to manage employees with mental impairments in the workplace” – Blog: Wednesday 24th January 2018

By Esther

HR in Hospitality event Senior HR Leaders Round Table dinner discussion
“Mental wellbeing at work – How to manage employees with mental impairments in the workplace”

Hosted by Fieldfisher, European Law Firm
Nick Thorpe, Partner & Dr Mike Drayton, Clinical Psychologist hosted an exclusive round table dinner debate for a small group of members who are senior HR leaders on the challenges leaders face in managing employees with their issues
Over a superb 5* dinner that would rival some of our invited guests establishments, that consisted of Brixham crab on seaweed jelly, Beef fillet with a bordelaise sauce followed by bitter chocolate mousse all served with wine of course, the conversation flowed. So I thought I would share some of the ideas, reflections and viewpoints that were raised around the table by your peers…

“How does poor mental health impact on your business”?
Stress and mental health are two of the top three causes of long-term absence from work. The most common sign to look for in your employees is ‘loss of concentration’ and the impact this has on productivity or guest service. They often take longer to perform tasks and even find it difficult to make decisions. CIPD research in 2016 found that more than three people in ten have experienced mental ill health while in employment. So it’s likely that we’ll be either affected ourselves by a mental health issue or be supporting someone who is. Former Health Minister Paul Burstow found that mental health problems cost UK employers £26 billion each year, averaging £1,035 per employee. You may want to start doing the maths for your organisation and calculate what it might be costing you!

“Why is it so difficult to talk about mental health at work”?
As an employer we have the responsibility to protect the rest of the team, however there is a shared responsibility with the employee, asking them “what would help you” is often a trigger for some solutions or adjustments that they think will help them. Asking them “what can you do to help yourself” is equally worth saying as this should be a two-way conversation. Some organisations have found that Millennials and younger employees are far more open about mental health issues and having open conversations about how they are feeling, it is part of their DNA and this is just normal for them to be talking about this topic. You may want to consider creating discussion groups that include representatives of all the different generations in your workplace as a way to start fostering an open culture!

“How can you talk to an employee about their mental health without making things worse”?
You need to foster an open culture and an environment where people feel they will be supported. Starting an open conversation with someone saying “I think you are really lucky if you get through life with no mental health issues” as a way to encourage people to open up to you, works for one senior leader. However does ‘calling out’ a mental health issue when it is not cause more reluctance for HR or line managers to tackle the issues? CIPD research identified that among people who describe their mental health as poor, 7% say this is the result of problems at work and 37% believe this is due to problems outside work in their personal life; however, the majority (54%) attribute their poor mental health to a combination of problems at work and outside work in their personal life. You need to acknowledge people’s feelings and show them you care for them as a person, give them the time to listen and trust that you will not make it worse!

“Is it better for a person with a mental health problem to be on sick leave”?
Consider what is ethical as an employer. You need to determine if the operational risks outweigh the legal risks when deciding if you have to let someone leave through a capability dismissal or agreement. Some of the practical pieces of advice shared around the table included; “Don’t ‘pussyfoot’ around an employee or keep them in a job they really cannot do” and “Don’t let the fear factor stop you dealing with the issue”. Quite often it is the HR person who picks up all the issues from the employees and absorbs their issues, so that over a period of time they too can start to feel low and take on the burden from the employee, soaking up all their anxiety through compassion and empathy. You need to be alert to your own HR teams behaviour so that this does not impact them!

“Do you have mental wellbeing strategy”?
We suggested making mental health a visible part of your wider wellbeing strategy, ensure that it covers both physical and mental wellbeing. Here are some of the top tips that leaders shared around the table….
• Train the middle managers on how to listen, really listen, more actively and raise their awareness of mental health issues and what to spot, simply asking if everything is okay is not always enough. Offering half-day workshops can help demystify mental health issues.
• We all provide emergency first aid and food safety training so why not mental wellbeing training as mandatory? Think of it as ‘Psychological First Aid training’.
• Level 2 counselling course could be a good route for HR professionals and line managers to pick up on some of the skills and knowledge and confidence to deal with mental health conversations at work.
• Think of the terminology and language you use when talking about the support you can give, “Executive coaching” is more socially acceptable than “counselling” especially for senior employees in your organisations.
• Encourage use of your EAP and if you are seeking external expert advice consider choosing the right professional. Psychologists have a more holistic approach and are often better than your standard occupational health physician.
• Mind the mental health charity and CIPD provide a lot of research and insight into the topic as well as advice if you love
• There is a great TED Talk worth watching, only about 14 minutes on YouTube “How to make stress your friend” by Kelly McGonigal.

We hope to do more events in this more intimate format throughout the year on other hot topics around the science of behaviour and of course the legal aspects that need to be considered.