Workplace mental health: What’s your duty as a manager?

Workplace mental health is better understood than ever but there’s more to be done, says Liz Burton.

The future is looking positive for workplace mental health: we’re finally accepting that it is not something we should only whisper about behind closed doors. More and more workplaces are cultivating an accepting, supportive culture with an aim to prevent work from negatively affecting people’s mental wellbeing.

What about your business? Where does it land on the supportive scale? Do you believe that people not feeling happy at work is the way things will always be? In case you haven’t guessed yet: it isn’t. 

What are my duties for supporting mental health?

Many organisations may not realise that part of managing health and safety also involves looking after people’s mental health. Some long-term mental health issues may even be classed as a disability under the Equality Act – for example depression, dementia, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia – and must be supported.

As a manager, you should have a strong awareness of how mental health issues can affect people, and of what the signs of of poor mental health look like (how would you fare on a mental health awareness quiz?). 

Share this information with others wherever possible, e.g. in the form of posters and leaflets. Display and distribute them in lunch rooms and toilets. This helps the workplace’s mental wellbeing culture grow.

A common cause of work-related stress is excessive demands and unrealistic goals. It’s demotivating.

Do you have a desire to incite change? If so, you’re ready to support your staff and the business as a whole. All you need to do is pick up the right tips and tools and get to work.

Ways you can support work-related mental health

Workplaces can do so much to support employees – more than this short article can list. It’s up to you as a manager to target the specific areas of stress that are relevant to your business, and present yourself as a supportive and approachable. Here are a few suggestions: 

  • Set realistic goals and projects

Let’s be honest: everyone loves looking like they’re 100% productive. But research suggests that employees are much less productive than that: in many businesses with eight-hour work days, the average worker is only productive for three hours. 

That’s not to say people shouldn’t be working as best they can within those eight hours – they should. The question is: why aren’t they? A common cause of work-related stress is excessive demands and unrealistic goals. It’s demotivating; the person feels overwhelmed and incapable, leading to self-doubt, stress, and procrastination.

The opposite can also be true: people want to feel challenged and have a future goal in sight. Finding a balance is key to a healthy mind. 

Talk to staff about what they believe they can achieve in a certain amount of time. Every individual will be different. Learn what sorts of challenges and goals spark enthusiasm in certain employees, and make changes to work activities to accommodate these preferences wherever possible. You’ll see their productivity and mood skyrocket. 

  • Keep your door open and arrange 1-2-1s

If staff don’t see management as approachable, they’ll feel like they’re walking on eggshells. They’ll feel like they have to cover up stress-related issues in fear of being reprimanded for ‘complaining’ or ‘not working hard enough’. 

According to mental health charity Mind, a survey revealed that 30% of staff didn’t feel able to talk openly with their line manager about work-related stress. This should be 0%. The whole point of your role is not to intimidate staff; it’s to tie the team together.

Make staff aware that you’re always open to a chat. 

Encourage them to come to you with their worries and stresses any time they need to talk (make sure you keep it private and confidential). Also, have monthly 1-2-1s where people can open up about personal or work-related issues. 

This builds trust and amiability, is incredibly healthy for the mind, and is liberating: they won’t feel weighed down daily by worries they can’t vocalise. Plus, it may help you identify areas of the workplace that need change or flexibility. 

Staff will feel like you value their mental health, which is in itself a motivating factor. People want to be cared about. It’s within our nature. 

  • Give praise

People spend a significant part of their life working, and they want to feel that the time they dedicate to the business is appreciated. Otherwise, why would they want to keep working there? They’ll look for a different job where their time feels well-invested. 

Most people don’t know they’re doing a good job unless they’re told. Some can run on their own reserves of self-fulfilment, but it can only drive them so far. Give people compliments when they have done a good job. 

It sounds trite, but compliments go a long way in lifting people’s spirits.

You don’t need to reserve praise for stellar performances; this sets the bar too high. But don’t feel like you need to compliment after every single task; that lessens the impact and makes it sound insincere. 
Give praise at optimal times, like when a big task or project is finished or at the end of a tough week or shift.

1-2-1s are also an ideal time to give people direct compliments and show your appreciation. You might not be aware of what sort of personal stress a staff member is dealing with: a moment of praise might be the small lift they need.


About the author

Liz Burton is a Content Author at High Speed Training: a UK-based online learning provider that offer a vast range of training courses, including Health and Safety, Mental Health Awareness, and Effective Leadership.


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