Normalising mental health conversations in the workplace
Back in 2020, in the midst of the first lockdown, we joined Paul McGregor, mental health speaker, advocate, author and Founder of Everymind, for our very first employee engagement webinar, to discuss the importance of tackling the stigma around mental health in the workplace and how to normalise conversations about it. Fast forward 18 months to now, mental health and wellbeing in the workplace are still incredibly important and something the team at peoplevalue are very passionate about in the work we do.
The end of 2021 came with a lot of worry and uncertainty – in the workplace and the world in general. When you add that on top of the all-too-real January blues and anxiety many people struggle with at this time of year, there are lots of individuals out there who will be seeking support from their employers as they get ready to take on 2022. Awareness around mental illness is constantly increasing, however, there’s still lots that can be done by managers and business leaders to ensure they create an open, safe environment for people to talk about how they’re feeling at work. It can be a daunting prospect, trying to remove the stigma around mental health and find the right ways to talk to your team about what they’re going through, but it could also be a life-changing one.
To help you navigate this new territory and normalise mental health conversations in your workplace, we’ve recapped our webinar with Paul and put together some insights and tips on how you can encourage your people to speak up about their mental health and access support if and when they need it.
Why do we need to do more to normalise mental health conversations?
In order to open up the conversation about mental health, it’s important to start by asking why people might not feel comfortable sharing what they’re going through, where the stigma around mental health comes from, and why mental health isn’t readily available, accepted or utilised enough.
There’s a generational divide
According to Paul, conditioning plays a huge part in the stigma around mental health. There are significant generational differences in the perception of mental health and how we’re brought up will undeniably affect our views on it. Commonly, the post-war generation has a resilient, stiff-upper-lip approach to mental illness and wellbeing – so, if and when mental health impacts their lives, it will come as a huge unknown shock.
A reactive approach isn’t as effective as a proactive approach
Whilst mental health support is becoming more normalised in the workplace, there’s more that needs to be done regarding the approach taken. Very commonly, managers will wait until there’s a problem to deal with before they react and put the appropriate measures and support in place. This can be dangerous and instead, businesses should be proactive about the way they support their employees’ mental health. Having valuable tools, resources and professional services readily available will mean individuals can look after their mental health on an ongoing basis and develop better coping strategies before things become too much.
Mental health support isn’t one-size-fits-all
People’s age, gender, background and experiences all play a pivotal role in how they interact with their mental wellbeing. Because every individual’s journey with their mental health is so unique, there isn’t a quick fix or a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to supporting them. This can make people avoid dealing with it altogether. Instead, more work needs to be done in supporting every challenge, by starting the conversation, showing compassion and flexibility
“Because of how individualised it [mental illness] is, we often ignore it because we’re looking for that quick fix, that one-size-fits-all approach.”
– Paul McGregor
How can we normalise mental health conversations in the workplace?
Treat mental health with the same level of importance as physical health
Mental illness is just as destructive and debilitating as physical illness and removing the stigma around mental health in the workplace starts with demonstrating as a leader that you treat it with the same level of seriousness as physical health. Just as you wouldn’t expect someone to come into work when they have the flu, your business should treat mental health problems and sufferers with the same understanding. Encourage managers to check in regularly, keep an eye out for the signs that someone might be struggling and be open about the fact that you’ll take whatever problem is being faced with the concern it deserves. Make it clear that opening up about mental health struggles doesn’t show weakness or laziness – and that it certainly won’t be held against their job performance.
“It’s drummed into us from a very young age that we have to ‘eat an apple a day to keep the doctor away’… we need to start taking that more proactive approach when it comes to mental health as well.”
– Paul McGregor
Provide education on mental illness to remove the stigma
Paul says, often unconsciously, our language can have a massive impact on the stigma around mental health. ‘Man up’ and ‘You’re mental’ are just a few examples of ways society uses derogatory phrases to associate mental illness negatively. This is often caused by a lack of education and empathy – particularly if the individual has no personal experience with mental health struggles. It’s important for everyone to understand the damage and unconscious shaming words and phrases like those can have, and that steps are taken to actively prevent them from being used in the workplace.
Introduce an employee wellbeing programme
Offering tools and resources to your employees via an employee wellbeing programme is a great way to start the conversation about mental health in your workplace. Whether it’s an employee assistance programme offering compassionate counselling, a mental health support app such as Everymind, or an online mindfulness course, all of these resources will help to normalise mental health. Plus, by having these resources readily available, employees won’t have to feel so vulnerable having to ask for help – because they can access the resources in their own privacy. It also goes back to what we addressed earlier – about being proactive rather than reactive in your approach.
Through our health and wellbeing solution, the zone, we deliver a wide range of valuable tools and services that help employees manage their overall wellbeing and mental health. From a debt management service to discounted gym memberships, the zone is a hub of support for your employees to tap into whenever they need it.
Find out more about our health and wellbeing solution, here.
“It’s about starting now rather than waiting and reacting when something happens…don’t be afraid to ask, and ask twice.”
– Paul McGregor
Hear more from Paul McGregor on our webinar, here.