How to Spot the Signs of Mental Health in the Workplace
It’s Mental Health Awareness Week (9 – 15th May 2022), and so we thought we’d dedicate this week’s post to just that.
Each year thousands of employees end up needing time off work for anxiety, depression or stress, with some never returning to their job. Often temporary staff are called upon to bridge the gap, or else, colleagues will feel the extra pressure. Many people who find themselves in this position simply carry on regardless, but in the meantime the pressure starts to mount and things can easily spiral out of control.
Sometimes it starts off with small signs. Perhaps you or a colleague at times have experienced this yourself. You know how it goes, you’ve taken on a big workload, keen to impress or support your team or maybe you’re ready for a promotion – but the work starts to become unmanageable. This can happen to anyone of us. Other times there are pressures or certain tasks that become problematic or stressful for a different set of reasons.
Line managers and directors are there to monitor employee wellbeing, but the signs can sometimes go unnoticed, usually because in the workplace we want to be seen as coping or doing our job well. If that sounds like you or someone you know, it’s worth checking in before things progress too far.
Otherwise, there could be a huge amount to consider further down the road. Things such as the need for a career change, reducing working hours or extended periods of time off work to recuperate. That’s why the moral case for mental health in the workplace needs to be at the forefront of our minds, now more than ever. The human (and business) costs can be colossal.
“Empathy is one our greatest tools of business that is most underused.” ~ Daniel Lubetzky
Spotting the Signs of MH in the Workplace
Sometimes mental health issues in the workplace can be tricky to spot. How can you tell whether your colleague has any potential emotional or mental health problems? It’s important to be attuned to changes. If you can pick up on any changes – even seemingly small things like tiredness or other patterns such as working late consistently – it can be easier to nip things in the bud. It all starts with dialogue. Just a simple – how are you really? Or I’m here if you want to chat about it – can help someone feel heard. That’s when colleagues can make a significant and supportive difference. Some of the key signs you might notice could include behaviour around stress, anxiety and low mood:
- A change in timekeeping
- Dips in performance
- Poor concentration
- Unpredictable attitude and behaviour
- Changes in appearance
- Withdrawal from social activities and/or meetings
- Taking time off sick regularly
- Tiredness/fatigue at work
- Vague communication
Other times, you may see nothing at all.
“Happiness can only exist in acceptance,” ~ George Orwell
Be Human: Creating a New Culture
Perhaps your colleague feels as though they can’t take short term absence for mental health or mention their feelings to their manager. Instead, they might ignore early warning signs and carry on regardless. The issue here is that mental health issues can grow into serious ones, if left unsupported.
Eventually your workmate may end up at the doctors where mental health is quickly medicalised and your colleague is ‘signed off’. Some time off is essential, however, does your work culture see this as ‘the problem’ or is there another way?
If work-based culture has an open, supportive and accepting attitude to mental health, this can make all the difference. Staff will feel more supported and less likely to bottle things up for too long, which is when things can become problematic and out of control. If employers can get it right, staff can together work in a circle of support that builds community, allows dialogue and ultimately helps not only performance, but most importantly wellbeing in the workplace starts to improve.
Normalising Workplace Mental Health
Of course it’s essential to never make assumptions or try to diagnose work colleagues. It’s helpful to offer a safe space for conversations and to make taking meaningful action easy. Mental health education, resources and sign posting can be simple yet important collateral to have in the office. A mental health manual, notices, digital info on the Intranet – however you wish to share these resources, making them available and normalising their use should be as commonplace as looking for a standard medical first aid kit containing plasters and bandages. Colleagues don’t want you to be their counsellor, they just want to be heard, understood and offered support relevant to them.
If you are suffering with mental health problems there are plenty of resources out there to help, from online information packs to help lines and charities that you can get in touch with, including…