With one in four people suffering from mental illness throughout their lifetime we must do better at creating working environments that encourage positive mental health and do more for our employees and co-workers who suffer from poor mental health.
The company I work for were thankfully great once I came forward suffering with depression, however I was petrified as to how they would react. This paranoia caused a large amount of stress and anxiety and sent me spiraling downwards mentally. A good friend of mine was recently sacked when she revealed that she had anxiety. Here we have two companies whose reactions could not have been more different but in both cases the fear of revealing your true self-caused torment.
It goes without saying that we should not have any businesses firing employees for suffering from a mental illness. Additionally, it is vital that we encourage our workplaces to foster an environment whereby the fear of revealing a mental illness does not exist.
Anyone who has been in that situation knows your productivity and effectiveness in your role can reduce. A fully engaged and healthy workforce will have higher productivity, fewer sick days and ultimately achieve greater revenue and profitability for the company. As such it is very much in the companies best interests to encourage positive mental health. However it is not enough just to say it, the companies need to live and breathe it.
It is important that we encourage a new approach to mental health which will positively impact thousands if not millions of employees. The basic premise of this being:
- Creating a mentally healthy working environment for all employees
- Creating an accepting and non-judgmental working environment based on trust
- Evaluation of the working culture and work-life balance – listening to the needs and issues of staff and reacting proactively to these
- Manager training – knowing your staff; target setting; communication etc
- Awareness among employees that such conditions will be accepted and that the business will work with you to get you better
- Training for managers to identify individuals at risk
- Training for how to approach the individual to have a conversation about mental health
- Ensuring employees know it is OK to talk
- Approachability + Openness + Acceptability = a culture where an employee with an illness is helped, and whose career is not curtailed due to the illness
- Support for those who need it at work
- Access to professional treatment and support
- Work adjustments
- Back to work plans
- Empathetic communication
First step is to ensure the condition of those who do suffer is not worsened by the fear of repercussions. Anything like this needs to come very the very top of the organisation down. The managers need to be aware of this environment as there is a danger of someone falsely feeling comfortable then approaching their line manager only to find the reaction is poor.
Clearly work does not play a part in all cases of poor mental health, however it is the most common factor in conditions such as stress, anxiety and depression. As such it is perfectly within the scope of businesses to create a positive and healthy environment that truly benefits the individual and the business simultaneously in a very meaningful way.