Managing Mental Health in the Workplace

The University is committed to supporting the health and wellbeing of all staff. As part of this commitment, the University recognises the importance of creating a positive environment, whereby staff and managers feel able to talk openly and with trust about mental health problems and seek help if necessary.

This is essential as according to the Equality & Human Rights Commission employers should expect to find that at any one time nearly one in six of their workforce is affected by a mental health condition, though significant mental health problems are relatively rare. As such, preventing circumstances which may lead to increased stressors and mental health problems, and/or managing the work environment towards reducing risk of exacerbating existing conditions is a part of every manager’s role.

Whilst there are a number of actions a manager can take to promote wellbeing including (but not exhaustive): encouraging good/clear communications; ensuring staff understand their roles; feel engaged; encouraged to take lunch breaks; etc. the following guidance is provided to help managers recognise and manage mental health problems in the workplace should they arise:

1. Be aware of mental health problems

It is important to be aware of the types of mental health problems that may be experienced within the workplace. This awareness is not about having an expertise of each condition, it is about recognising signs of more common mental health problems, such as: anxiety, and depression. As part of this awareness, it is also beneficial to understand that the way in which a mental health problem affects an individual’s ability to cope at work will depend on that individual’s level of susceptibility, resilience and breadth of coping skills.

Further guidance on understanding mental health problems can be found at: Mind Mental Health A-Z

2. Recognising early signs of distress

TOP TIPS: Recognising early signs

Whilst managers are not expected to diagnose mental health problems within their workforce, it may be helpful to be able to recognise potential early signs of distress within your staff.

However, it is important to note that if one or more of these signs are observed, this does not automatically mean the employee has a mental health problem – it could be a sign of another health issue or something else entirely. Always take care not to make assumptions or listen to third party gossip and to talk to the person directly.

The table below is not exhaustive but offers some useful pointers.

Physical

Psychological

Behavioural

• fatigue
• indigestion or upset stomach
• headaches
• appetite and weight changes
• joint and back pain
• changes in sleep patterns
• visible tension or trembling
• nervous trembling speech
• chest or throat pain
• sweating
• constantly feeling cold
• anxiety or distress
• tearfulness
• feeling low
• mood changes
• indecision
• loss of motivation
• loss of humour
• increased sensitivity
• distraction or confusion
• difficulty relaxing
• lapses in memory
• illogical or irrational thought
processes
• difficulty taking information in
• responding to experiences,
sensations or people not
observable by others
• increased suicidal thoughts
• increased smoking and drinking
• using recreational drugs
• withdrawal
• resigned attitude
• irritability, anger or aggression
• over-excitement or euphoria
• restlessness
• lateness, leaving early or extended lunches
• working far longer hours
• intense or obsessive activity
• repetitive speech or activity
• impaired or inconsistent performance
• uncharacteristic errors
• increased sickness absence
• uncharacteristic problems with colleagues
• apparent over-reaction to problems
• risk-taking
• disruptive or anti-social behaviour

[Source: Managing and supporting mental health at work: disclosure tools for managers - CIPD/Mind Guide December 2011]

3. Create time to talk and encourage staff to talk openly

Creating regular opportunities to talk with staff members is important. A staff member may be anxious about discussing their mental health, so it is important to ensure that: this meeting time is confidential; and any information shared within the meeting is handled sensitively. It is important that any discussions are focused on how the symptoms of a condition affect the individual’s ability to perform well at work and/or how the work affects the condition. This focus is important in seeking to attain the correct balance of gaining any necessary information to help support an individual and if necessary directing them to the relevant professional staff.

This time may be part of an existing regular one-to-one meeting, where you can use sometime to ask about the individuals wellbeing.

TOP TIPS: Encouraging staff to talk openly

Questions should be simple, open and non-judgemental to give the employee ample opportunity to explain in their own words.

Questions to ask

Questions to avoid

• How are you doing at the moment?
• You seem to be a bit down/upset/ frustrated/angry. Is everything okay?
• I’ve noticed you’ve been arriving late recently and I wondered if you’re okay?
• I’ve noticed the reports are late when they usually are not. Is everything okay?
• Is there anything I can do to help?
• What would you like to happen? How?
• What support do you think might help?
• Have you spoken to your GP or looked for help anywhere else?
• You’re clearly struggling. What’s up?
• Why can’t you just get your act together?
• What do you expect me to do about it?
• Your performance is really unacceptable right now – what’s going on?
• Everyone else is in the same boat and they’re okay. Why aren’t you?
• Who do you expect to pick up all the work that you can’t manage?

[Source: Managing and supporting mental health at work: disclosure tools for managers - CIPD/Mind Guide December 2011]

If this becomes a consistent and normal part of these one-to-one conversations, this will assist the opportunity to have timely conversations, particularly if you recognise the early signs of potential mental health problems.

TOP TIP: Conversation Checklist

  • Avoid interruptions – switch off phones, ensure colleagues can’t walk in and interrupt.
  • Ask simple, open, non-judgemental questions.
  • Avoid judgemental or patronising responses.
  • Speak calmly.
  • Maintain good eye contact.
  • Listen actively and carefully.
  • Encourage the employee to talk.
  • Show empathy and understanding.
  • Be prepared for some silences and be patient.
  • Focus on the person, not the problem.
  • Avoid making assumptions or being prescriptive.
  • Follow up in writing, especially agreed actions or support.

[Source: Managing and supporting mental health at work: disclosure tools for managers - CIPD/Mind Guide December 2011]

a) Build Trust

To be able to create an environment where staff feel able to talk openly about a mental health problem, like any other problem, they need to feel there is enough trust within your relationship to be able to share their problem with you.

To develop trust it is essential to express your genuine interest in them and their wellbeing, assuring them that you won’t judge them.

Talking about mental health problems may not be easy, but being there for someone if they do want to talk is essential. Where managers believe that there is an issue but the individual does not appear comfortable/willing to discuss the issue with you, you may wish to seek informal (anonymous) advice from Workplace Health & Wellbeing or Human Resources in the first instance or encourage them to do so themself.

b) Avoid making assumptions

Try to put your own assumptions of mental health problems aside, particularly the associated stereotypes. It is unhelpful to make assumptions about what symptoms the staff member may or may not have and how these may or may not affect their ability to do their job, before they have had the opportunity to share information relating to their mental health. It will be easier for the staff member to talk openly about their problem, if you avoiding making assumptions.

c) Be positive, listen and reassure

Talking about mental health problems may not be easy for you or the staff member. Whilst you may be afraid of saying the wrong thing, it is important to understand that saying nothing may be more detrimental. By speaking to the member of staff when there are early signs of distress, you may be able to prevent problems from escalating.

Within these conversations, it is vital that you focus on the person for example how they feel and what factors are contributing to this. Managers may be able to consider the means of addressing internal workplace/environmental factors potentially taking into account professional advice/support (e.g. from Workplace Health & Wellbeing), Some external factors may be completely outside the influence of the manager however in such cases the individual may be able to gain help and support from other sources such Workplace Health & Wellbeing or counselling.

Ask honest and open questions about how any condition manifests itself and what implications there may be.

Listen to be able to understand how they feel and what you may be able to do to help to support them.

Reassure the member of staff that they are not alone and that you are there to help and support them.

d) Be sensitive to the staff member’s needs

Being sensitive and supportive of a member of staff with mental health problems is essential. It is also important to recognise that every person has a different experience which will affect them in different ways. You should therefore look for the best way for you to be able to meet their individual needs.

e) Respond appropriately and flexibly

As mental health problems affects people in different ways and at different times in their lives, you may need to adapt the support for the individual. It may be helpful to work together to create a Wellness Recovery Action Plan, which may outline steps which you can take to help to support the staff member’s health at work.

4. Recognise workplace triggers

TOP TIPS: Workplace Triggers

A key part of spotting the signs is managers being alert to the potential workplace triggers for distress, such as:

  • Long hours

  • Taking shortened breaks, or failing to take them at all
  • Steadily increasing/decreasing workloads
  • Unrealistic expectations or deadlines
  • Poor working environment
  • Lack of control over work
  • Negative relationships or poor communication
  • Poor managerial support
  • Job insecurity or change management
  • Lone working

[Source: Managing and supporting mental health at work: disclosure tools for managers - CIPD/Mind Guide December 2011]

5. Making Workplace Adjustments

It is good practice to consider workplace adjustments for anyone who is affected by a mental health condition or stress at work. For more information on making reasonable adjustments please refer to the following information:

6. Seek advice if you need to

Sources of Support for Managers

Sources of Support for Staff

Occupational Health Services Occupational Health Services
Staff Helpline
Staff Helpline
Counselling & Support Counselling & Support
Human Resources Human Resources
A practical guide to managing and supporting people with mental health problems in the workplace (HSE) Juice, Everyday Health & Wellbeing
Standards on Managing Workplace Stress (HSE) Tips for Everyday Living (Mind)
Resources for managers (Mind) Guides to Support and Services (Mind)