By Simon Blake, Chief Executive of Mental Health First Aid
At any one time, one in six individuals in the workplace will experience mental ill-health, including depression, anxiety or issues relating to stress.
No matter the size of your workforce, it is likely that a number of your employees will experience a mental health issue during their time in the workplace. And the effects of someone falling out of work can be particularly challenging for a small business, both on the ground and financially.
The numbers speak for themselves. Annually, mental ill-health is responsible for 72 million working days lost and is estimated to cost UK employers up to £34.9 billion each year.
We all have mental health just as we have physical health, but even in small organisations where colleagues work closely on a regular basis, it can still be difficult to recognise if someone is struggling. And with pressures on time and resource, it can be hard to know where to begin in taking action on workplace mental health.
However, there are a number of steps small businesses can take to start creating more open, mentally healthy workplaces.
Share free resources to raise awareness and break stigma
Sensitising employees to talking about mental health is a great first step, and an important building block of any mentally healthy workplace. There is a huge range of awareness raising resources out there that all businesses can access and share with their people, from posters and factsheets, to webinars and tookits.
At MHFA England we share our own Take 10 Together toolkit with our staff and other SMEs we work with. This has simple talking tips and helps to raise awareness of common signs and triggers of mental ill-health. Our Workplace Wellbeing Toolkit is another great source of useful resources to help get the conversation started.
Train managers effectively
Even when working in a small team, it can be really valuable to have someone that is trained to spot the signs of mental ill-health, understand how to listen to people’s issues or concerns, and to signpost them to appropriate support.
By training managers in mental health awareness skills, such as mental health first aid, small businesses can intervene early to help individuals access the right support at the right time. This can ultimately speed up recovery and improve that individual’s outcome in the long term.
Educate employees on mental health and wellbeing
In smaller organisations, running ‘lunch and learn’ sessions or webinars led by staff can be a great way to educate employees on the ways in which they can look after their own mental health and the support available. Public Health England’s Every Mind Matters tool is a great starting point of this kind of activity.
It might seem a little daunting to start the conversation initially, but sessions like this can help to dismantle the stigma, normalise talking about mental health and empower people to understand the support available to them.
Encourage employees to address their stress
Focusing in on stress is key. Positive emotions can build up a buffer against stress and even lead to lasting changes in the brain to help maintain good mental health and wellbeing. It’s a good idea to encourage and support employees to explore different self-care activities that can lift their mood and ease their mind. Activities could include trying a new hobby, setting positive realistic goals or developing a regular exercise routine.
Hardwire wellbeing into your business
Awareness raising, training and self-care are really important. But for SMEs leading the way on health and wellbeing, these aspects are parts of a wider approach – one where wellbeing is woven into the fabric of the organisation.
This means designing the stress out of processes and systems, putting healthy job design first, attending to reasonable adjustments and flexible working needs, and thinking about factors like fair and equal pay.
If a mentally healthier future is the prize, then this is the kind of workplace that leaders in all businesses should be striving to create.