Mental Health Insensitivity in the Workplace


Mental health in the workplace is a topic that needs to be handled carefully and sensitively. However, very few managers feel they have the skills to intervene when they notice the signs and symptoms of mental illness and that’s assuming they are aware of the signs and symptom to begin with.

Here we take a look at the impacts of taking an insensitive attitude to mental health, and what managers can do to put this right.

The impact of mental illness in the workplace

Research shows that approximately 91% of managers recognise that their actions have a direct impact on the wellbeing of their staff. Yet only one in four managers have received any training around mental health awareness.

As the stigma around mental health slowly reduces and workplaces start to have more conversations around mental health and wellbeing, it’s imperative that managers and supervisors have the skills to tackle these topics in a sensitive and measured manner. It’s important to remember that we aren’t expecting managers to become psychologists and ‘fix the problem’, but it is beneficial when managers are able to recognise the signs and act accordingly.

Mental health has a serious impact on both the individual and the organisation. It causes stress and anxiety, which can produce irregular moods, reduce focus and can lead to fatigue and burnout, as well as a number of acute physical health problems. Poor mental health is now one of the main causes of employees having to take time off work and is something that all employers need to address.

Why good management matters

When a manager is insensitive or dismissive about mental health, it can result in workers feeling like they can’t speak up, this is often when a mental health crisis occurs. Studies have revealed that 53% of employees feel comfortable discussing mental health at work. This leaves almost half who will keep their problems to themselves and suffer in silence for fear of being stigmatised.

If an employee feels like they can’t be open about their mental health, and if there aren’t any support services available to make life at work easier for them, the likelihood of them resorting to taking time off increases exponentially. In turn, this can then lead to even greater anxiety about returning to work and in some cases can cause workers to leave their jobs entirely.

Managers set the example for the rest of the workforce. If they have negative attitudes towards mental health, it’s highly likely that a number of employees will follow their lead. This creates a general culture of negativity around the subject of mental health at work and makes working life extremely difficult for sufferers.

How managers can improve mental health awareness

As mental health issues now affect approximately one in six people, managers have a responsibility to encourage greater mental health awareness and make the workplace a sympathetic and supportive environment for all employees. There are a number of important steps that can be taken to achieve this:

1. Encourage conversations around mental health at work

Employees need to know that they will not be stigmatised if they admit to having mental health issues. Managers can help by initiating conversations and encouraging the entire workforce to become more aware of mental health.

Managers should consider mental health training so that employees can be educated around the signs and symptoms and how best to handle any issues that arise in the workplace. This will make them more comfortable talking about mental health openly with employees.

2.   Support mental health initiatives

Initiatives such as Stress Awareness Month or RU OK Day can be a great wat to introduce the topic of mental health at work and start the conversation. It provides an opportunity to organise workplace sessions dedicated to mental health awareness and encourages everyone to get involved.

By having open discussions and encouraging employees to recognise the signs of stress, you have a better chance of your workers being able to identify when they are at risk. This also opens up the whole workplace culture to become more understanding around the issue of mental health.

3.   Provide support

Be approachable. It’s essential that your employees can come to you with any concerns they have about their jobs, workloads, or any other situations that may be causing them stress at work. By taking the time listen to your employees and becoming aware of the issues they’re facing, you can put the necessary steps in place to make things easier for them, such as reducing their workload or ensuring they have the help they need with specific tasks. This can help to alleviate the problem before their mental health gets worse.

4.   Implement flexible working

If it’s possible, consider allowing employees to have more choice in their working hours, or even work from home when and if it’s convenient. This will allow them to achieve a better work-life balance, which has a highly positive impact on mental health.

If you would like to know more about ways to handle the subject of mental health at work, please get in touch. We are always happy to help.