Mental health support in the workplace
We spend over one-third of our life at work and how things are at work matters for both our physical and mental health.
Any of us can develop mental distress over time, whether as a result of challenging life events or accumulating stress in workplace and other environments, especially where there is insufficient support and resources. Research shows that a range of workplace issues, such as high workload, lack of recovery time, role ambiguity, electronic monitoring of employees, and toxic cultures contribute to our levels of distress and are seen as “psychosocial risk factors”.
It’s important to develop a strategic and preventative approach to mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. We cannot rely only on individuals’ attempts to cope – that’s often simply not enough and it can make people feel blamed and disengaged when what is needed are strategies beyond their individual efforts.
There are different ways to support mental health in the workplace:
- Manage psychosocial risks.
- Offer flexibility and autonomy over how and when people work.
- Provide health insurance.
- Develop and implement mental health plans.
- Provide regular training opportunities to reduce stigma and equip people with tools and knowledge to manage mental health at work.
In a recent global mental health report, the World Health Organization was clear. Mental health promotion and prevention strategies work best if they identify “underlying factors” that influence mental health and wellbeing, followed by interventions to “reduce risks and/or increase resilience and mental well-being”. A key recommendation from the report was that, to prevent mental ill-health at work and ensure interventions are effective, managers need mental health training.
Why mental health training is important
In the APA’s 2022 Work and Well-being Survey, results revealed that:
Only 11% reported that their employer has people on-site who have received mental health training. But of those who reported their employer does offer this support, 94% considered this support effective, including 45% who said the support is very effective.
A workplace that promotes mental health has substantial benefits for organisations. These benefits can be seen in improved productivity, reduced absenteeism and presenteeism, and higher retention of staff.
One in five employees in New Zealand meet the criteria for diagnosable mental illness in any given year, with stress, depression and anxiety contributing to lost working days, as well as lower individual and team performance while at work (known as presenteeism).
Mental health is not about “crazy” or other stigmatising stereotypes. It’s about the supervisor who is drinking too much, too often without realising it’s getting out of control. It’s the complicated grief after a death that’s turning into clinical depression. It’s the eating disorder that’s hidden at work but is leaving the employee low in energy and high in fear. It’s the team member who’s underperforming because of his worry about his partner’s postnatal depression. It’s the manager who’s distracted by dealing with his father’s diagnosis of dementia.
Work-related stress can increase the risk of employees developing mental illness as well as exacerbating existing symptoms. Organisations risk losing talented staff through stigma, stress and distress, and are more likely to see team resilience and innovation suffer.
Mental health training for leaders and managers
How confident would you be raising a mental health concern with a team member or direct report? What do you imagine could go wrong – for your relationship with the person, for health and safety and other legal obligations, or for just feeling embarrassed and out of your depth? Yet, for people with experience of mental illness, safe and supportive workplaces play an important role in the everyday management of their illness, as well as their recovery, where applicable.
Mental health training for managers and supervisors is about strengthening their knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours so that they can better respond effectively to workplace mental health needs. It is also about normalising the topic of mental health at work, reducing stigma, and equipping people with strategies and tools for having safe conversations and making effective change.
We want our leaders to know themselves and those they work with, to notice changes in wellbeing which may indicate the need for additional support. It is also important for leaders to be clear about what is and what isn’t their role in supporting their team members and understand available and appropriate sources of support.
Umbrella’s mental health workshops
Umbrella’s workshops are designed to help leaders develop the language for having mental health conversations and reduce work-related risk factors.
Umbrella offers a range of mental health awareness and skills training sessions for leaders which include 90 min overviews as well as half-day, full-day, and two-day interactive workshops. Through Umbrella’s workshops, leaders develop the following knowledge and skills:
- understanding the importance of investing in workplace mental health training and developing proactive rather than reactive processes
- the legal obligation of organisations and leaders to ensure psychologically safe and healthy workplace environments
- strategies to reduce stigma about discussing and disclosing mental health issues in the workplace
- practical skills to increase ability and confidence in identifying and safely raising concerns and supporting team members struggling with mental distress (some workshops also provide opportunities for practice and skills development)
- exploring workplace accommodations to effectively support recovery from mental illness or periods of low mental health
- exploring ideas and strategies around creating a culture of wellbeing and self-care in your workplace.