​Dealing with Mental Health at Work

​Dealing with Mental Health at Work

Posted by Emily on 9th Oct 2023

Mental health isn't the easiest topic to deal with, but it's becoming increasingly important to be mindful of your staff's well-being at work as part of your duty of care. But it’s not always obvious when employees are struggling or what they are struggling with. They may be harbouring some kind of anxiety, whether it's a shyness dealing with customers, trouble organising childcare or even simply wondering if they're up to the task.

While Covid helped to put a greater spotlight on mental health, it's fair to say that it's been an underlying issue within the industry way before the pandemic struck.

Key Points

  • Levels of absence from stress have risen by 113% since March 2019, according to a study of data from absence management platform e-days.
  • The average number of people taking leave because of stress is up by 74%.
  • Asked whether they would prefer extra money or time for themselves, 62% of employees said they would take an additional day off each year.

Industry charity Hospitality Action carried out a survey in 2019 that showed that 68% of respondents felt that their workforce had become more stressful in the last few years and that 60% of people have experienced a mental health problem at some point during their career. With the cost of living crisis and the staffing crisis resulting in many more staff working longer and harder, it’s likely that this figure is now much higher.

Strangely, Covid was a great leveller when it came to the issue of mental health within the workplace and business owners who may have been a bit more cynical about their role in mental health conversations are now beginning to recognise it and are starting to have the conversation with their staff.

What can you do to help your staff with their mental health and well-being?

Firstly, it's important to look for signs that someone may be struggling, such as:

  • Changes in behaviour, mood or how they interact with colleagues – more tearful, angry, hopeless, overwhelmed, moody, withdrawn or manic
  • Changes in motivation, work performance and output
  • Struggles to concentrate or make decisions
  • Changes in appearance – weight gain or loss, appearing tired or unwell Loss of interest in activities they previously enjoyed
  • Frequent lateness, complaints of disrupted sleep
  • Increase in drinking, smoking or changes in appetite
  • Increased absence or frequent illness.
  • Sleeping more than usual or inability to sleep.

At the same time, don't think you can take on every problem yourself as it's highly unlikely you'll have the life experience to address every issue. You might, for example, be able to help with reassuring a staff member who feels anxious about returning to work after maternity leave but are you well-equipped to handle something more serious like depression?

Employee Assistance Programme

With this in mind, a really useful resource can be signing up for an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). There are plenty available from companies like AXA, Bupa and Insight Healthcare, which for a joining fee and for a nominal monthly charge, offer staff complete wraparound care with access to services like counselling, addiction therapy, debt and legal advice, as well as family and career support. As an example, Hospitality Action charges £5.95 +VAT per employee per year – that's a lot of support for less than the cost of a coffee and a sandwich.

Also, within most EAPs is a management referral so you can coach a manager to be a go-to person for anyone struggling with their mental health. This is because when someone comes to you with a problem your instinct is generally to solve it - and that's not always the right thing to do. A managerial referral provides a service that gives managers support to support employees but it's also great for managers who might have the same anxieties and the same troubles that their staff do.

Regular Check-Ins

Regularly check-in with staff by having frequent staff meetings in which you create a comfortable environment conducive to talking about mental health and well-being. Carrying out surveys amongst your team is another great way to identify what issues are bubbling under the surface so you can tackle them before they blow up.

Don’t Be Afraid

The main thing is not to be afraid of having the conversation and, remember, if you can encourage staff to speak up, you can get them help. The sooner you do that, the quicker you can get your team on track, which can have major implications for your business.

Return on Investment

It may sound strange to talk about your return on investment when it comes to issues around mental health, but EAPA, the trade association of EAP providers, carried out a survey that revealed that for every pound spent on an EAP in 2021, a business got back about £8. The reason being that if you've got a workforce who can talk to you about their issues and, in turn, you address them, then absenteeism, people not turning up, staff just leaving the job without warning all go down as do associated recruitment costs.

Jeremy Gibson, marketing director at Hospitality Action, knows exactly how important having the right team dynamic is in hospitality. He comments: "Some businesses spend years building a great team. If somebody's struggling, it can be really difficult to keep that momentum up. It's more important than ever to make sure that the team is firing on all cylinders and that staff are happy and want to be at work. Having mental health conversations and the right support available is going to make that more likely to happen."

Press Reset

So why not use this opportunity to reset both your business and your approach to mental health and, in turn, establish the kind of business you want to run? If you can lead from the front and be open about the challenges you face then you are going to engender a culture of openness through the team.

If you can be more mindful of the issues your staff might be facing, you'll have a more successful workforce and, ultimately, a more successful business.