How to support mental health in your workplace

By Lee Biggins, founder and managing director of CV-Library?

According to CV-Library data, a worrying 32% of people working within the education sector admit to suffering from depression or anxiety. Worse still, a staggering 83.9% of those say that this often negatively affects their performance at work.

If not tackled head-on, stress and anxiety in the workplace can quickly escalate, having a knock-on effect on overall productivity within your organisation.

With Blue Monday (15th January) being dubbed the most depressing day of the year, in this article I will explain how higher education organisations can navigate through restructures and budget restraints to ensure that the industry is offering the support that employees need.

Warning signals

While conversations around mental health are starting to open up a bit more, it certainly remains a taboo subject, especially in the workplace. However, the problem is, unless your employee chooses to open up to you, this hidden illness is often difficult to spot, with many individuals opting to put on a ‘brave face’ rather than talk about how they are feeling.

That said there are some warning signs that you, as an employer, can look out for. For example, it may be that you’ve noticed someone is acting out of the ordinary; they’re quiet when usually they are loud and bubbly, or they’re suddenly rather irritable when normally they would be calm and collected.

Alternatively, they may be taking more sick days, may seem increasingly fatigued, or could even appear to be lacking motivation. These signs could be cause for concern in any situation, but it’s important to delve deeper into the issue and think about what may be contributing to the change in behaviour at work.

Approaching the situation

Mental health is a sensitive topic and therefore needs to be approached in the right way. In many cases, employees will be too afraid to talk to their manager about how they are feeling, causing the issue to spiral out of control.

This means the responsibility should lie with the manager to start the conversation. If you’re concerned about one of your team’s wellbeing, you should approach them in an environment where you can talk about the issue in private. Avoid initiating this conversation over email; though feel free to ask them their availability for a chat through these means.                                          

What’s more, it’s important to determine whether work is exacerbating some of these feelings amongst your employees. For example, nearly half (45.4%) of education professionals admitted that their job causes them to feel anxious and stressed.

Identifying the causes

Work with your employee to identify some of the factors that are influencing how they are feeling. In the initial stages, they may not want to open up to you, so don’t be offended if that is the case. In addition, don’t take their words ‘I’m fine’ as gospel. As a nation, us Brits are known for our ‘stiff upper lip’, but it’s no longer acceptable to pretend we are ok when we are not, and you as an employer play a huge part in ensuring your workforce are happy in their roles.

There are a whole host of contributors to stress in the workplace. Our own data found that for 50% of education professionals, the main cause in the workplace was their workload, followed by their fear of getting something wrong (15.6%). 

Alternatively, there may be outside factors, such as relationship or family issues, which are affecting your employee’s wellbeing. While you can’t control how somebody feels and how they react to certain situations, your responsibility is to ensure that their anxious feelings are not made worse while they are at work. 

Consider how you can help 

So what can you do to help an employee that is feeling anxious or depressed? Our research found that 27.6% of education professionals said that regular one-to-one catch-ups with their employer, to check in on how they’re doing, would help alleviate some of their feelings. A further 20.7% would appreciate the offer of professional help. 

Many larger organisations will benefit from Employee Assistance Programmes, where qualified professionals are on hand to talk to employees when they feel they need to. If you don’t have access to such services, think about linking up with an organisation that can offer the help you need. It could be as simple as providing a leaflet with contact numbers to your staff – pointing them in the right direction can help significantly.

What’s more, 92.7% of people working within the education industry believe that employers should receive training to help them understand mental health and learn ways in which they can help employees who may be suffering. It might be worth speaking to your HR department about the potential to do this.

What happens if this issue isn’t tackled?

Organisations that don’t support mental health in their workplace could risk having an unproductive, fatigued workforce or worse still, their employees moving on to other companies which are more accommodating to their needs.

In today’s working world, people want to work somewhere where they feel appreciated, not to mention in an environment where they can approach their manager should they need further support. The winter months can certainly be a time where depression and anxiety are at their highest, so think about ways in which you can better support your employees, today.


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