Finding ways to help employees with mental health issues is worthwhile for companies, but it’s hard to know where to start.
Under the 2010 Equality Act, all employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for staff members with disabilities, including mental health problems.
But according to a 2017 Office Genie survey of 2,000 British workers, 51pc of those with a mental health problem felt that there was inadequate support in the workplace.
SME owners have a responsibility to provide support, but how should they go about it?
Putting mental health first
For some companies, positive mental health is at the heart of what they do. Brentwood Community Print, a print and design community interest company, puts all of its profit into supporting mental health within the team. It uses a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) toolkit – which includes shareable videos and infographics, and office posters – to ensure that all employees are aware of the issues surrounding mental health.
"Most of our team are trained in MHFA, so know how to identify, understand and help a mentally unwell person,” explains managing director, Audrey Clark. “We have an open door policy, which means that any member of the team who tells us that they have an issue affecting their mental health will be listened to straight away.”
Interestingly, the team doesn’t send staff members struggling with mental ill health home. Instead, it encourages them to focus on their work while being supported within the positive environment.
"We take this approach to show that we value our team as individuals and because, by remaining in work, they develop strategies to cope with their symptoms,” adds Mr Clark. “This helps staff to avoid sickness leave, isolation and further deterioration."
Implementing support strategies
The IoD recently released a paper calling on British businesses to set up formal mental health policies and integrate mental health awareness into training. Fletchers Solicitors consider employee wellbeing and morale to be as important as its caseloads.
"Our strategy includes mental health awareness training for our managers, subsidised gym and yoga class memberships, and flexible working," says Danielle Reavey, the firm’s people manager. "We also run personal resilience workshops to enable staff to identify when they might be feeling stressed and how to develop coping strategies."
Through the strategy, the business has been able to establish an open and transparent culture where people feel like they can talk about stress, anxiety and other concerns, while helping to remove the stigma that often exists when it comes to discussing mental health.
In just six months, implementation of the strategy brought a boost in staff wellbeing and engagement, a 46pc reduction in staff sickness and a 24pc reduction in one-day absences.
"By taking a preventative rather than reactive approach, we have a mentally fit and happy workforce, which in turn has improved client care and productivity,” says Ms Reavey.
Another way that SMEs can build on wellbeing support is through external help. RedArc nurses are trained, experienced and give long-term practical advice and emotional support to their clients’ employees.
When an SME hires the company, a mental health nurse advisor is allocated to its team, giving staff access to information and guidance for positive mental health, and time to discuss issues or assess candidates for more specialist support.
“A confidential external service allows employees to open up, work through illness and receive therapy or counselling assessed for
their particular condition very quickly,” explains Christine Husbands, managing director of RedArc.
According to the RedArc's data, eight out of 10 patients’ conditions improved while using the service, while 70pc of patients recovered to normal mood levels within three to four months.