How to support your team’s mental health: Advice for leaders

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From recognising symptoms to taking the right approach to managing mental illness, we hope you find this to be a valuable resource when it comes to helping those who need it most.

A great manager knows how to look after their team. Whether it’s making employees feel valued or supporting them in the weaker areas of their roles, effective management rarely goes unnoticed. It should follow that managers and leaders are equipped with the skills and knowledge needed to deal with the personal wellbeing of their employees, but this isn’t always the case.

When it comes to mental health specifically, it can be difficult to know where to start. As the stigma surrounding mental illness recedes and public awareness increases, it’s becoming an important topic and issue – and one that managers may be required to face if their employees are affected. But, not every manager will be well versed in the methods and approaches to deal with mental illness in the workplace.

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, we’ve put together an essential guide to supporting the members of your team who may be going through a rough patch. From recognising symptoms to taking the right approach to managing mental illness, we hope you find this to be a valuable resource when it comes to helping those who need it most.

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The manager’s role in maintaining mental health

From the outset, an effective and empathetic management style is the right kind of approach to take in general. Adopting this style means you’ll be better placed to help employees who may be in need later down the line.

Nevertheless, the onus is on management to ensure employee wellbeing is kept in check; their proximity to employees means that they’re in a place to spot behavioural changes. Like a physical ailment, mental illness should be treated with the same severity and importance. If a member of staff was in physical pain, you’d ask how they were and whether you could help – and the same should go for someone’s mental health.

How to recognise a mental health problem

The difficult thing about mental health problems is that they aren’t always readily apparent, and a lot of different signs and symptoms can manifest before it’s clear that someone is suffering.

If you have some concerns about a member of staff, look for the following signs:

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Talking to someone about their mental health

Even in positive working environments, employees may struggle with opening up to their managers when they’re feeling low. This can cause them to become increasingly insular and perceive that there will be a misunderstanding from the manager’s perspective.

Regularly asking your staff how they’re doing allows them to build their confidence, so they can approach you sooner rather than later. However, if you believe a member of your team might be experiencing a mental health problem, then you may have to take the lead and raise it with them.

Rather than escalating it to HR, it’s a good idea to talk with them yourself. They’re in a vulnerable position, so starting the conversation in a positive and supportive way will put them at ease. Tactful, genuine questions will be much appreciated; open communication, as with most things in the workplace, is important, especially if an employee takes time off for their illness.

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Consider doing the following when having a chat with someone about their mental health:

• Choose an appropriate place where they feel comfortable talking

• Ask simple, non-judgmental questions

• Allow them to explain how their mental health problems manifest, the triggers that cause them and how it impacts their duties

• Don’t make assumptions about their symptoms

• Reassure them of the conversation’s confidentiality

• Develop an action plan (see below)

• Let them know that you’re always available to talk

Making the right workplace adjustments    

Once an employee has disclosed their struggles, the next priority is developing the right steps to address them. It’s essential that there are clear policies to help them recover from and cope with mental health-related issues. Typically, these changes are simple and cost-effective, though the right steps tend to be based entirely on the individual.

Though these agreed-upon adjustments are valuable, as a manager it’s important not to treat struggling employees differently. If things devolve into micro-managing, e.g. keeping detailed timesheets, then the results can often be even more damaging to a person’s self-esteem, not to mention discriminatory.

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Mental health management resources

How to support staff who are experiencing a mental health problem – From mental health charity Mind comes this extensive resource, which also features a hugely detailed section on return-to-work action plans.

The People Managers’ Guide to Mental Health – In collaboration with Mind, this resource from the CIPD features important definitions, prevention and intervention tips, and a host of other useful advice.

Relationships at work: our top tips for managers – From is this piece that features a large focus on relationships in the workplace and how mental health affects them.

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