For those suffering from mental health issues, going to work can be a great achievement. It can help to forge a beneficial pattern, stability, and sense of purpose and identity. Put simply, it can keep the mind and hands busy, directing energy away from feeding the destructive behaviours associated with mental illness and poor mental health.

There are times where the workplace can be causing damage to an employee’s mental health. Or, the conditions may work against the best efforts of someone with a mental illness trying to build a career, making it twice as hard to manage. Sometimes, these issues are clear and easy for an employer to fix. But often, there can be scenarios that impact a person’s mental health that may be less obvious to someone with a good level of mental health.

Sadly for employees, seeking workplace perks such as free food are over, according to On Rec. Instead, employees are looking for truly useful benefits, with a solid mental health care policy one of the most sought-after work perks for 2020. This covered requests for free workplace counselling, for example.

This article looks into some top ways to make your workplace mental-health friendly. Following these steps can be a huge benefit to your employees who may be struggling.

Flexitime

Flexitime for employees allows them to attend to physical health needs, such as doctors’ appointments and dental check-ups, the focus now turns to helping mental health needs. There has been a lot of discussion regarding the implementation of mental health days in the workplace, but few workplaces have picked up on the matter in an official capacity. This has led to many employees opting to take sick days in the event of burnout, high stress, or other health impacts caused by poor mental health or mental illness.

However, this may not always be beneficial. Often, employees will feel guilty for taking a sick day without being physically ill. For others, such as employees with autism, the idea of taking a sick day may be difficult to grasp if one has no symptoms of physical illness. Therefore, it would be much better for everyone for workplaces to have clear policies regarding sick days compared to mental health days. This is where ‘special leave allowance’ policies can be useful. These days are set aside from the standard sick day allowance and can be used by employees who need to take a day or more to recuperate their mental health, or in the case of mental illness, to recover at home on ‘bad days’ where the office environment simply cannot be processed or coped with.

IB Times have also reported how 30% of people are not likely to tell their managers if they have mental health problems. But calling in sick due to mental health or mental illness is the fourth most common reason for a sick day in the UK. Clearly, the need for mental health days in the workplace is growing. The Mental Health Foundation recommends that employers offer a two day allowance every year for mental health days for employees. By doing so, standard sick days will be taken less often, meaning the workplace isn’t impacted by more days off, and employees feel more secure and clear on being allowed to take mental health days.

Toolkit

To prove to your staff they care, creating your own company mental health toolkit would go down a treat, as well as offering solid advice and processes to help deal with poor mental health. This could be in the form of a physical pack of information that employees can access, or on an electronic hub that workers can access on their computers.

A mental health toolkit can contain a variety of things. But, as a guide, you could include:

  • Resources, including local mental health group contact details or charities, such as the Samaritans
  • eLearning opportunities, such as coping with stress in the workplace
  • A stereotype-buster for common mental health problems and illnesses in order to encourage discussion and/or seeking medical advice.
    • For example, the stereotype surrounding OCD being purely cleaning-based in nature is wholly incorrect, but can prevent many sufferers from ever considering the idea that their behaviour may indeed be a symptom of this disorder. By highlighting this misinformation, people may seek medical advice for something they would have otherwise ignored.
  • A list of adjustments that can be made easily upon request
    • This could include secluded work areas for those who struggle with sensory overload as a result of mental health problems or illnesses.
  • Break-away space, if needed
  • A list of named (and trained) mental health first aiders within the business. For a more subtle, visual confirmation, why not have some personalised lanyards made for your mental health first aiders to wear? That way, employees can find who they need to speak to easily and discreetly.

There are so many ways a workplace can be easily altered to help support employees struggling with poor mental health or mental illnesses. These alterations can not only make the workplace more comfortable for these employees, but also encourage a healthy discourse and openness surrounding these issues.

Terry Clark
Author: Terry Clark

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