Talking about mental health – three simple things any workplace can do

 In Blog, CEO's blog

Last week (and this week) are mental health awareness week and ELBA has been participating in the new Green Ribbon campaign. The idea is to get people talking about mental health and to end the stigma that is attached to it. The Green Ribbon campaign has been launched by the Lord Mayor’s Appeal, and is part of the This is Me initiative, which features senior leaders from major corporations talking about their own experience of mental ill-health – and how they got better or found coping strategies. Many ELBA corporate partners are involved in the This is Me campaign, and hopefully 50,000 people wearing green ribbons on their lapels will stimulate more conversations and a gradual widening of the debate.

For employers, mental ill-health has a real cost beyond just the personal trauma. A 2014 report by the GLA estimated that £1.9 billion is lost each year in London to reduced productivity arising from mental ill health – a combination of sickness absence, presenteeism and the lost productivity that arises when departing workers have to be replaced by new recruits.

Larger employers have adopted in-house wellbeing programmes to help keep their workforce health and productive. Increasing numbers are giving their line managers mental health training – and just last month we heard that Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England are now training around 10,000 people in Mental Health First Aid every month. But what can smaller employers do? Even pretty big medium sized companies sometimes struggle to find services that they can draw in to help when an employee discloses or exhibits mental health problems, and if they find a suitable service, will it be able to respond quickly enough? It can leave employers in a position where even if they have goodwill and the right intentions, they may not handle the situation well and it can end in a messy tumbling out of work for the employee.

I was thinking of three things a smaller employer could do. Firstly, talk. In staff meetings, team briefings, pizza lunches – wherever your staff get together, senior leaders can encourage their staff to talk about mental health. People are never too shy to talk about their skiing accidents, bad backs or operations, so it shouldn’t be any different for mental health.

Second, let the staff themselves come up with some ideas to promote wellbeing in the workplace. It might be some collective exercise sessions, or some group activities. At ELBA we have Midday Moves where one of the team will lead a few stretches and exercises to get people away from their screens, and we have a book club coming up, and a lunchtime session on yoga and laughter (might be too busy that day). There are loads of great ideas easily found on the internet.

Thirdly, review personnel and HR policies and practices now, before you might need them. Are mental health conditions recognised properly in the staff handbook, and do managers know how to react, when to refer and to who if cases of mental ill-health arise.

Three simple steps which don’t cost much, if anything. Doing them as part of mental health awareness raising seems a positive way to get involved in Mental Health Awareness week.

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