There’s no denying that the current pandemic is taking its toll on our mental health and current uncertainty about lockdown restrictions is bound to exacerbate that. According to a Mind study, during the early stages of lockdown (early April – mid May), over half of adults said that their mental health had declined.
It’s more important than ever that line managers feel comfortable having conversations about mental health. You don’t need to be a therapist to speak about mental health and no one is expecting you to make a diagnosis. All you need to be able to do is spot changes within your team, speak to them and signpost them to the right support services. Simple, right?
How to spot the signs that someone is struggling with their mental health
There is no straightforward answer to this. You need to be able to spot changes amongst your team members but this relies on you knowing them well in the first place. Make sure you take the time to build a relationship with them though regular check ins, one to ones and team meetings. You’ll then be able to notice when the life and soul of the party becomes irritable and introverted. Or when the employee who never misses a deadline starts logging on late and failing to get work to you on time. A change in appearance or string of sickness absence may also be cause for concern.
With many of us working remotely, it’s even trickier for line managers to spot the signs of poor mental health but there are a few things to look out for. Employees might become more withdrawn on calls or emails. The language and tone that they use might change. You might find it harder to get hold of them. Or on, the flipside, they are displaying signs of presenteeism and sending lots of late night emails.
Whatever your cause for concern, make sure you speak to the employee as soon as you can.
Starting the conversation
We’re often nervous when having conversations about mental health. It can be daunting and it may feel like we’re prying or asking too many questions. But honestly, the conversation can be started with a simple ‘How are you?’
Let the employee know that you’ve noticed some changes to their behaviour and wanted to check in to see if they are okay. Make sure you listen carefully to what they have to say and don’t feel the need to solve or fix things – just communicate that you want to help. Ask questions to establish how their condition affects them and their work? Have they sought any help? And is there anything that you and the business can do to support them? Has lockdown exacerbated things for them?
If you’ve had similar experiences, it can be tempting to talk at length about your own story but be cautious about this. Everybody is different, and their experience of the same condition may be completely different to yours. You want to take an empathetic rather than a sympathetic approach to these conversations.
Signpost to support
During your conversation be prepared to signpost the employee to support. Lots of companies have great wellbeing benefits including Employee Assistance Plans and Private Medical Health Insurance which can provide quick access to counselling, often on a remote basis.
Even if you work for a small company with limited resources, there are plenty of free support services which you can highlight to employees. The key one is their GP. You could also recommend your local IAPT service which enables people to self-refer for talking therapies. Charities such as Mind and Samaritans have some really useful advice too. Make sure you are aware of your company policies around sickness absence and pay and who your HR contact is.
You are also required to make reasonable adjustments for your team even when working from home. Would amended working hours be helpful for an employee who is struggling with their sleep or concentration? Or could you provide additional support to someone who is suffering with anxiety because they are overwhelmed with their workload?
Think about what is within your power to change and start the conversation. Just taking the time to talk to another person is often enough to provide reassurance or support when they most need it.