Blue Monday: Is this a trivialised workplace mental health issue?

Apparently, today (16th January 2017) is ‘Blue Monday’, supposedly the ‘most depressing’ day of the year. The negative emphasis that’s put on this date got us thinking and we asked ourselves; “How seriously we should take this concept?  Is it just a fad?  Or could there really be some truth behind the title?”.

As a result of cold weather, mounting debt, reality setting in after the Christmas period, the enthusiasm towards those New Year’s resolutions disappearing and it still being a long time until payday; Blue Monday can create many feelings of negativity. This can affect some more than others. 

However, does the term ‘Blue Monday’ trivialise bigger issues?  

The charity Mind feel that the term is ‘dangerously misleading’ and ‘[Those] who live with depression know that those feelings aren’t dictated by the date.’

As employment lawyers, we work with many individuals and businesses who are impacted by mental health issues so we were not surprised to learn that everyone is affected by mental health issues in some way at some point of their life. After all, we all have a physical impairment from time to time, whether it is a paper cut or a broken leg, so why wouldn’t our minds suffer occasionally too?

One of the biggest challenges of mental health issues is even recognising in ourselves or in others when our (or their) mental health is not 100%. This is made even more difficult when poor mental health is still such a taboo subject. Then the task is finding the strength and confidence to do something about it or even knowing what to do about it.

What about the experts?

Interestingly, a recent study published by the charity, Mind, suggests that:

  • Less than 50% of GPs have received mental health training
  • Less than 50% of GP’s are required to undergo mental health training throughout their employment
  • A staggering 82% of nurses feel ill-equipped to handle mentally ill patients.

If these are the statistics from the experts how can business owners be expected to identify mental health issues in their workplace and know where to start when considering what support and processes should be in place to manage their staff?

Mental health and the workplace

As you arrive to work on Blue Monday, you may carry on as normal in the belief that it is a bit of a fad. But what about those who are suffering with the blues? What about those who suffer with the blues not only on Blue Monday, but every single day?

Many of the businesses we work with self-confess that they are ill equipped to identify the ‘red flags’ in recognising mental health issues in their workforce. This is interesting when we also seem to hear that more of our employer clients are also realising the significant impact of mental health issues on individuals in their teams and ultimately their business, for example due to the increasing cost of sickness absence and service to clients suffering.

Would your managers know how to recognise the signs that someone could be having more than just a bad day?

Tips to identify mental health ‘red flags’

Look out for:

  1. Changes in a colleague’s behaviour or mood or how they interact with colleagues
  2. Changes in a colleague’s work output, motivation levels and focus
  3. Colleagues who are struggling to make decisions, get organised and find solutions to problems
  4. A colleague who is appearing tired, anxious or withdrawn and losing interest in activities and tasks they previously enjoyed
  5. Changes in a colleague’s eating habits, appetite and increased smoking and drinking

Workplace Wellbeing

As lawyers who champion workplace wellbeing, we consider that recognising that mental health issues do happen and taking a proactive approach towards highlighting it can be the first and most powerful step to building a culture that promotes good physical and mental health.

Helping your employees identify how to keep themselves healthy, and to be aware of others who may be struggling and need more support, is powerful and will only benefit the organisation.

These steps don’t need to be huge; it’s just about building the foundation which you can continue to develop.

We strongly believe the interaction of the financial health and stability of your business and the overall health and engagement of your workforce is key to maintaining and improving your business’ financial success. After all, research has shown that organisations with a high level of engagement do report 22% higher productivity (Source: https://hbr.org/2013/07/employee-engagement-does-more). 

And, after all, some workplace wellbeing initiatives targeted to promote good health and raise awareness of mental health issues needn’t be onerous!

So how do you get started? We have outlined some initial steps below:

What you can do as an employer

It is rare for individuals to work in silos, therefore, it is important that every employee has a sufficient support network around them, whom they trust, and feel able to open up and discuss problems they may be facing. The following tips might be useful for you, and/or your management team:

  1. Improve your own understanding of anxiety and depression
  2. Learn about employee and employer rights and responsibilities around the mental health sphere
  3. Provide free mental health information and resources to staff which are readily available from charities such as Mind (http://www.mind.org.uk/workplace/mental-health-at-work/taking-care-of-your-staff/useful-resources/)
  4. Communicate with your employees regularly and understand what makes them tick

Everyone’s experience of a mental health problem is different and there may be no outward sign. You should never make assumptions about people’s mental health which is why it is important to create an environment where people can be open.

Workplace Wellbeing initiatives that can promote good (mental) health

You don’t have to put in place a lot of initiatives or pay for experts to come into the workplace to run sessions. It may be that you offer to subsidise the cost for employees to meet experts or attend some workshops or you may decide to simply sign post them to experts by hosting a ‘wellbeing day’.

We would recommend that you consult with your workforce to see what they value and then decide on a selection of initiatives that compliment each other but will reach a broad cross section of your workforce.

For example, some of the initiatives suggested below may not appear on the surface to relate to mental health, but this is so that you can reach all types of your workforce in some way, even those who do not consider they need any help with mental wellbeing.

The aim of Workplace Wellbeing initiatives are to aim to positively impact on other areas of your business, for example attracting and retaining talent, addressing diversity issues, reducing sickness absence and improving employee engagement.

Initiatives you could introduce into your workplace might be:

  • Physio sessions
  • Financial education programmes
  • Debt counselling
  • Lunchtime sessions to educate your teams Mindfulness sessions
  • Resilience workshops
  • Counselling
  • Team building days
  • Nutrition workshops
  • Arts day
  • Coaching
  • Training for managers
  • Flexible working initiatives
  • Fruit bowls
  • Cycle to work schemes
  • Gym memberships.

Maintaining your personal wellbeing:

We also need to take measures that improve our own personal wellbeing. This can be challenging when motivation levels are low, but a combination of the following approaches has been shown to work well:

  1. Identify what triggers stress in you;
  2. Identify who you can trust to talk about how you are feeling;
  3. Consider learning and practising mindfulness and relaxation techniques;
  4. Ensure you get daily exercise and plenty of sleep;
  5.  Look at your diet and consider if you can improve health eating habits.

Next steps

For further information the Mind website has a wealth of information to support those suffering with mental health issues, those who support people with mental health issues, and businesses who would like to learn more about what they can do in the workplace. Go to www.mind.org.uk

This post was written by Victoria Pratley and Lisa Wignall of the Price Bailey Legal Services team. If you would like to speak to one of our advisers from our Price Bailey Legal Services team about improving your workplace wellbeing then contact us here.

#inspiringworkplacewellbeing

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