Thanks to the efforts of Princes Harry and William, and the Duchess of Cambridge, and their ‘Heads Together’ programme, you might think discussing mental health issues would be less of a taboo than it used to be.
But according to a recent survey by DPG group, 85% of employees still feel there’s a stigma attached to it. And 58% say they wouldn’t mention it to their manager if they were suffering a mental health episode. So a majority of people with mental health issues are likely to be working without the help they need, which can adversely affect their own performance and that of their team.
Crucially, though, it’s not just a fear of being stigmatised that holds so many people back and leaves them suffering in silence. Some 80% of the employees surveyed also believe their managers aren’t equipped to deal with such an admission.
DPG spoke to Tom Oxley, lead consultant and relationship director at Bamboo Mental Health. He sums it up like this: “Despite wonderful awareness campaigns, stigma is alive and well when it comes to mental health at work.” Worse still, that stigma “...can be nurtured by some organisations… There’s a chasm between awareness and action.”
So what do line managers really need not only to know, but do? DPG did some further digging and identified five initial steps a company should take. Some can be executed by individual line managers, some need to happen with senior support. Briefly, to be able to handle mental health issues, managers need to:
1. Build trust: This is a crucial first step. Unless they feel safe to share their health issues, employees are unlikely to do so.
2. Get training: Given how few employees think their managers are equipped to help with mental health issues, workplace well-being training is not only necessary from a practical standpoint. It’s also crucial for helping to build that trust.
3. Get support from HR: Even with training, no manager should be left feeling they have to handle whatever comes their way without any additional support. The HR function needs to provide clear guidance on their legal responsibilities, company policy, and what additional support they can make available to their people.
4. Give them permission: People suffering from stress, anxiety or other mental health issues may feel they are ‘wrong’ for doing so. This makes it important to emphasise that ‘it’s okay to not be okay’. Unsurprisingly, managers with personal experience of mental ill health tend to be better equipped than those without it.
5. Make adjustments: Anyone with mental health issues effectively has a second job to tackle: the job of getting themselves well. Organisations need to give their managers the discretion to support their people in this. Managers need to be able to set more appropriate working hours and targets – without having to make a big deal out of it.