With over 91 million working days lost to poor mental health each year, it’s one of the biggest costs to UK businesses. Tempting as it is to assume that it’s only an issue for bigger companies, the latest stats from Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA) indicate that it’s not the case. With a staggering 1 in 4 employees having mental ill health issues each year, even SMEs employing 10 to 30 people, like us, are likely to have a number of employees who are having difficulties performing at work because of mental ill health.
In October, we heard these and other facts from Phil Gilbert-Smith, MD of Umbrella Training & Development Ltd, mental health first aid trainer and a speaker at one of our events. Phil speaks candidly about his first-hand experience of a mental ill health crisis. Inspired by his story, and spurred into action by some of the enlightening statistics, we were soon asking ourselves what we could be doing to support our team as they strive to deliver the best customer service to our clients.
What would you do if you knew 1 in 4 of your staff would have a physical injury?
We are management standards consultants so our team have limited scope for injuries at work! However, if we were caterers and we knew from experience that 1 in 4 of our staff would suffer knife cuts at work, we’d take a two-pronged approach:
So, why should our approach to mental ill health be any different?
We agreed it shouldn’t.
Taking preventative action
Much as we would love to, we simply can’t cushion our team from life’s hard knocks and genetic predispositions which can contribute to mental ill health difficulties. What we can do, however, is provide a safe environment in which to offload any worries or concerns they have and help them develop effective coping strategies.
This would be an unfair burden to place on a colleague or manager so each month we welcome a mental health nurse, Carie Workman, to our offices. Each employee is encouraged to spend an hour with her, in private, focusing on their needs and nothing else. From bereavement to ill health, separation to family worries, the free sessions with Carie have helped our employees feel ‘lighter’, ‘more confident’ and ‘better able to concentrate’. In a recent survey of employee benefits, the sessions with Carie scored almost as highly as our flexible working policy and having birthdays off.
Being able to spot a colleague in need and respond
Mental health problems can snowball quickly so a lot can happen in the weeks between Carie’s visits. We therefore asked Phil Gilbert-Smith to train several of our team to spot when a colleague may need a listening ear and a little extra support. His one day course is not for the faint-hearted, covering topics such as suicide, anxiety, depression and self-harm, but Phil delivers it sensitively and supportively, giving delegates the confidence and tools to tackle difficult subjects appropriately and encourage colleagues to seek further help. Debbie Farr, one of our Directors, comments, ‘The day was both informative and eye opening. It gave you a real appreciation of the struggles that people have and as a colleague or manager, how we can help within the workplace environment. It also made you much more aware of your own triggers and steps you can take to assist in self-managing your mental health.’
What’s next for our team?
We’ve signed up for Worcestershire Works Well, a local accreditation scheme designed to support businesses looking to support the health and wellbeing of their employees. Look out for more posts on the subject of health and wellbeing or follow us on social media.
Would you like to join us?
If you’re looking to improve the support you give your employees, we’ll be delighted to share our experiences with you. Please contact us by emailing email@example.com.
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