How to spot signs of poor mental health at work and what you can do

In light of World Mental Health Day on 10 October, we’re taking inspiration from Mind, the mental health charity, who joined our webinar earlier in the year to talk about mental health in the workplace.

We take you through some of their guidance (a few thoughts of our own) on how to spot the signs and some practical advice on how to address mental health problems amongst your workforce.

It’s a stark statistic that poor mental health costs UK employers between £44bn - £47bn per year (Deloitte – Refreshing the Case for Investment, 2020). While it may seem a very personal thing, the impact of poor mental health on employees’ function and productivity at work clearly has wider business implications.

How to spot the signs of poor mental health in employees

Here are just a few tips from Mind to keep an eye out for:

  • Changes in the employee’s behaviour – perhaps not turning up to meetings on time or taking longer than usual to complete tasks.
  • A lack of concentration or focus, or avoiding more challenging work.
  • Seeming tired and withdrawn, or more anxious than usual.
  • Getting more easily irritated or being more confrontational than is normal for that individual.
  • Lack of engagement with others.
  • Difficultly making decisions.

Your responsibility for your employees’ mental health and wellbeing

It’s understandable that you may feel overwhelmed when faced with an employee who is suffering with mental health issues, as your responsibility is twofold:

  1. You have a duty care to support your employees’ health, safety and wellbeing.
  2. Part of your role is to reduce sickness absence and improve workplace productivity, and you may have targets to achieve in line with business objectives.

But the good news is that both can be achieved with the same approach.

Practical advice for employers

1. Supportive language
Sounds obvious, but asking someone ‘How are you doing at the moment? Is there anything I can do to help?’ versus ‘You’re clearly struggling, what’s going on with you?’ makes the world of difference to how someone feels and how they’re likely to respond – both in the moment and their ongoing behaviour.

2. Agile work environment
Provide break out spaces where employees can go to get away from their desks – either to take some time out by themselves, or to engage with colleagues in a more informal environment.

3. Check in with colleagues
Take the time to regularly communicate with employees, especially if they’re remote workers. This means providing business updates and making sure they know what’s going on throughout the business and how they contribute to that, as well as more personal check ins. You don’t have to set a rigid schedule for informal catch ups – just make sure you’re dropping them a note, giving them a call or having a coffee with them to see how they really are. If you can, take this outside the work space, where they may feel more comfortable sharing any worries or concerns they have.

4. Highlight your Employee Assistance Programme (EAP)
Most organisations will have EAPs, but many employees may not be aware or understand the support available to them. Make sure your employees know they have a safe channel of communication when it comes to discussing their mental health – whether that includes conversations with you or not.

5. Review ways of working
Where a process or working style that previously worked well for an employee is no longer producing the same results, it’s time to review and see how you can adapt this for the employee. You have to remember you’re working with real people, who have been through a lot over the past couple of years, but if you give them respect and choice, they’re more likely to want to do their best for you in return. Sounds simple right? And it is. It doesn’t have to be huge changes; maybe allowing them to change their break pattern or making sure they have an action that signals the end of their working day.

Get started

With World Mental Health Day coming up, it’s the perfect opportunity to start engaging with your employees on all things mental health. Set the ball rolling and start the conversation today.

If you have employees that are experiencing stress, anxiety, depression low mood or other psychological concerns that are impacting on their work attendance and productivity, please get in touch to discuss our mental health assessments and recommendations to help you support your employees.

Find out more about HCML corporate services:

It's The Time To Talk 

Long Term Absence Management Action Plans (MAP-LTA)

Face-to-Face Management Action Plans