The recent CIPD Health and Wellbeing Survey raised concerns again that mental health in the workplace is still not being addressed effectively. The survey showed that 72% of public sector organisations, which includes education, have seen an increase in the number of reported common mental health conditions in the last 12 months*. This includes employees suffering most commonly with anxiety and depression.

Mental Health has always been high on the list of main causes of absence both short and long-term, but this year’s reported increase ensures its position as the top reason for long-term absences.

This is further supported by a recent ACAS poll** that showed that two-thirds of employees (66%) have felt stressed and/or anxious about work in the last year.

The worrying aspect is that whilst 72% of employees said it is the role of the line manager to recognise and address stress, only 43% would actually talk to their manager to raise the issue. So, a great deal of work needs to be done to raise the opportunities for staff to talk about mental health concerns and to encourage them to do so as it still remains that 1 in 4 would just soldier on without saying anything at all. The problem with this that we see at SAM, is that if the reason for the absence is not identified early on and staff are not supported with the help they need, the situation only gets worse and the pattern of absences continue to increase.

So what can organisations do to help support mental health? According to the CIPD survey the top five approaches included*:

  • phased return to work and/or reasonable adjustments (61% of employers)
  • increasing awareness of mental health issues across the workforce (60%)
  • employee assistance programme (54%)
  • counselling 48%)
  • training managers to support staff (40%).

For extra support, many organisations utilise an Occupational Health provider who can assess the employee and propose reasonable adjustments that can be made to help the employee. Our sister company FusionHR has more about this service on their website. 

The employer and employee may also consider assembling a wellness recovery action plan (WRAP) which includes***:

  • What symptoms or signs does the employee show of ill mental health?
  • What may be initiating these feelings and what support can be offered to prevent this
  • Who should be contacted in the event of an emergency?

Making sure you are having regular wellbeing meetings with staff is also very beneficial. Here are a few top tips to consider discussing in these meetings in order to encourage openness about mental health:

  • Keep the meeting informal, relaxed and holding it in a confidential place
  • Think ahead before the meeting what your observations are, what your concerns are if any and make notes
  • Before you begin make sure you are calm by clearing your head of other thoughts, switch off your phone and take some deep breathes.
  • Ask simple and open questions so that the employee answers in full rather than yes/no.
  • Be patient and listen
  • Ask about their role and workload and what challenges they are facing
  • Ask what improvements they would like to see or would help them
  • Ask if anything is worrying them
  • Explain your concerns reiterating that you want to help and ask for their thoughts
  • Have a break and resume later if it becomes awkward or upsetting
  • Reinforce that if needed there are options for support – occupational health and counselling
  • Discuss the next steps
  • Document the details of the meeting and store confidentially (or within your absence system)
  • Finish with the fact that at any point you are there for them to talk to.

SAM assists the school with information to be able to increase wellbeing support by identifying what resources are needed and where they are needed. The reports in SAM show where your trends of absence are so this may be high levels of stress in a particular department or at a particular time.  Managing absence proactively like this has such positive effects on the wellbeing of staff, staff morale and ultimately performance. It can also help to reduce costs overall and free up budget to be spent on educational and wellbeing resources instead of on absence costs such as supply cover, lost salaries and sick pay.

*https://www.cipd.co.uk/Images/health-and-well-being-at-work-2019_tcm18-55881.pdf

**https://www.cipd.co.uk/Community/blogs/b/policy_at_work/posts/mental-health-in-the-workplace-stepping-back-and-seeking-solutions?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=wellbeingatwork&utm_content=acasblog

***https://www.nhsemployers.org/your-workforce/retain-and-improve/staff-experience/health-and-wellbeing/protecting-staff-and-preventing-ill-health/supporting-line-managers/managers-guide-on-supporting-workplace-mental-wellbeing/staff-who-are-experiencing-mental-health-problems

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