Well, many people have
a baseline state of mental health. In other words, they have
a level of mental and emotional health that they’re at the most of the time. This can be influenced by many things,
like genetics, childhood experiences
or family relationships. There are also significant triggers that can offset a downturn
in our mental health. We might suffer a bereavement,
or be the victims of bullying at work. Acas’s new guide advises managers
to focus on the things they can control when it comes to
the influences on our mental health, not worry too much about
those things out of their control. A manager can have a big influence on things like the variety and workload
an employee gets, about the nature of the relationships
at work, in terms of tackling bullying, and the culture of
the workplace in general in terms of promoting equality
and fairness in a workplace. All these issues can have a real say in creating a framework
for developing positive mental health. Well, common symptoms
of a mental health problem might be an unexplained increase
in absence or sickness leave. A manager might notice that
their employee is behaving differently, or their performance
isn’t quite up to the usual standard. They may be moody or uncommunicative, and they may lack
the usual levels of energy, or find it harder to make decisions. The interesting thing
about our mental health is that it doesn’t often
conform to stereotypes. In other words,
appearances can be deceptive. For example, you could have one employee with a diagnosis of a mental health
problem, let’s say bipolar disorder, who in fact
has very positive mental health. They may cope very well
with their illness, and there may be no underlying sign
of any other condition. And then there’s an employee
who has no diagnosis at all of a mental health problem but in fact, has quite poor mental health
over a long period of time. This may be the employee
that you suspect is depressed or often quite down, but that’s maybe
just the way they are most of the time. These employees can be quite challenging
for a line manager in terms of motivation and engagement. Our mental health is also quite fluid
and changes over time, so it can be misleading
to attach too much meaning to labels. Well, a manager can do three things. Firstly, obviously notice
that there’s a problem. An attentive manager will notice
a change in behaviour or performance, but will also be understanding
of the fact that an employee may be reluctant to talk about
their mental health problems, so you need to be
a little bit sensitive. Secondly, don’t be afraid to offer help. Many line managers
are understandably reluctant to kind of get involved in things they
may see as too personal or too complex, but managing a mental health problem isn’t so different
to managing other health problems. As a manager, you can help an employee
to help themselves when it comes to
any therapeutic techniques or coping strategies they may be using. You can try and minimise the negative
impact of any environmental factors, perhaps by offering flexible working
or an altered routine. And finally,
it’s worth keeping a watching brief. You may need to refer the employee
to outside help or to a counsellor
if you have one in house. Our key message is to try and normalise
the subject of mental health, so that we all become better
about talking about it. Let’s look at the figures. The Department of Health
estimates that one in four of us will suffer from a mental health problem
at some time in our lives. The estimated cost of mental health
problems at work is around £30 billion. But behind the figures
lies a deeper problem. We’re not actually very good
at talking about our mental health. For example, if I was going
to talk to my line manager now and I had a mental health problem, would I be happy to be open about that?
I’m not sure. I might see that sort of disclosure
as a sign of weakness. But if I was talking to my manager
about health and safety issues, I’d be far more likely to feel comfortable about telling him
about a muscle injury or some other physical injury
I’d sustained. Recent figures from the Chartered
Institute of Personnel and Development show that, for the very first time, stress is the major cause
of long-term sickness absence amongst manual
and non-manual workers. Mental health at work is a real issue,
and we need to start addressing it.

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