It's time to end the stigma around mental health in the workplace, once and for all May 2017

‘Just man-up and get on with it’.
‘You’re paid to work – you can leave your personal issues at home’

These are two phrases I am aware that line managers have used in relation to staff who were experiencing mental health problems. In many businesses and industries this remains a common management reaction. It reveals how far we still have to go to change attitudes towards mental health in the workplace, and for that matter in wider society.

Taboos about mental health in the workplace are stubbornly difficult to shift. According to a recent survey completed by Comres for the BBC, around two thirds of employees would not feel comfortable speaking to their colleagues about a mental health problem if they were struggling.

This is a tragedy. It shows the urgent need to ramp up efforts to break down the stigma and improve mental health in the workplace. What is the cost to business of not dealing with this? How many millions of people across the economy are unproductive as a result? It will always cost business more in the long run to sweep such issues under the carpet rather than to deal with it.

We all have a responsibility to help fight the stigma that surrounds this issue. Thankfully things are beginning to change. Charities such as Time for Change and Mind are committed to ensuring that anyone who has a mental health problem can get support. The recent intervention of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince Harry in this area has been valuable. They are spearheading a new campaign called Heads Together to end stigma around mental health, and change the national conversation on mental wellbeing.

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So what practical steps can we take within the workplace?

At Tamar HR, we firmly believe that changing the stigma around mental health at work starts with compassionate, supportive line management. Building capabilities with line managers so that they are equipped to talk about mental wellbeing at work is the cornerstone of our approach. There are some excellent initiatives in this area, such as Mental Health First Aid, which teaches people how to identify, understand and help a person who may be developing a mental health issue. In the same way as we learn physical first aid, Mental Health First Aid teaches you how to recognise those crucial warning signs of mental ill health.

Tackling mental health issues within the workplace is seldom straightforward. There can be many complex reasons why people may experience mental health problems at work and it can be tricky territory for a line manager to navigate. Whilst it is important to be sensitive and understanding about mental health problems, it does not avoid the need for managers to have to deal with difficult issues that do arise within their teams, such as employees’ who are underperforming or who fall out with each other, or who demonstrate a poor attitude at work. There is a legitimate management right to address such issues irrespective of the disclosure of a mental health issue. The important thing is creating an open dialogue.

We have helped many businesses develop their approach towards employee wellbeing. All businesses want to have a content, happy, engaged workforce that feels supported. In these circumstances people do their best work, businesses perform better and everyone benefits. It is in the business interest to create a culture where it is okay to put your hand up and say you are struggling. We can all play a part in tackling mental health stigma wherever we experience it in order to keep the momentum going. This is the way we will truly change attitudes towards mental health at work, and in society.

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