Mental health has become an increasing focus in recent years and never more so than over the last year. For businesses, with many employees now working from home, it can be more difficult to spot signs that a team member or colleague is struggling, and to discuss this with them.  However, it’s crucial that employers don’t simply ignore the issue or assume it’s not a problem in their workplace.

According to mental health charity, Mind, more than one in five employees (21 per cent) said that they had called in sick to avoid work as a result of workplace stress, and 30 per cent said that they would not feel able to talk openly with their line manager if they were feeling stressed. In the same research, 56 per cent of employers said they would like to do more to improve staff wellbeing but don't feel they have the right training or guidance. So what should employers look out for, and what steps can they take to equip managers and staff members to address mental health issues?

Here are some indicators to be alert to:

Changes in work habits

If an employee starts to lack motivation, shows difficulty concentrating or lower-than-normal productivity, this may be an early sign of mental health issues such as anxiety or stress. These may be sparked by problems the employee is dealing with behind the scenes, such as family issues, financial or health concerns, the pressures of lockdown and home schooling, or a factor of almost a year of dealing with the pandemic.

Changes in physical appearance

Even though many of us are more casual when working from home, a marked change in appearance may indicate that an employee is struggling. Also watch out for a reluctance to switch the camera on for video calls, which can also be a sign that something is amiss.

Changes in demeanour

A sustained shift in mood or demeanour can be a sign of mental health issues. This can include excessive nervousness, restlessness, irritability or emotion, or an employee becoming more passive, worried or tense. In the remote working dynamic, watch out for changes in non-verbal communication such as body language or tone of voice.

Increased absenteeism or punctuality issues

If an employee starts routinely arriving late to work calls and meetings, calling in sick more often or is hard to reach when working from home, this may be a sign that mental health issues are leading them to disengage. Employees seeming tired or low in energy can also be a sign of depression or anxiety.

Mood swings and emotion

If an employee seems to get upset, angry or flustered very easily, this can be an indicator that they may be suffering from anxiety or stress, leading them to react negatively to day-to-day work issues that they would normally take in their stride.

Seeming withdrawn or avoiding interaction

When managing employees remotely, it’s important to watch out for them being unwilling to communicate or join calls, seeming withdrawn, or generally retreating from interactions with others, all of which can be signs of mental health problems.

What measures can employers take to help?

In the current remote working dynamic faced by many employers, it’s more important than ever to be alert to these signs, and to empower managers and employees to recognise and act on mental health issues before they become major problems. Regular check-ins are a useful tool to monitor how employees are doing, and putting in place an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) offers a quick and cost effective tool for employees to seek guidance and help.

EAPs provide confidential support, assistance and counselling to help employees deal proactively with challenges including stress, anxiety and depression; family and relationship matters such as divorce, separation, abuse, bereavement, child care and caring for relatives; and health issues such as nutrition, smoking and drinking. EAPs also offer practical support such as legal and financial information, enabling employees to access guidance to help resolve issues. Importantly, EAPs also provide support to help managers deal with workplace challenges in their team.

All EAP counsellors are bound by the confidentiality provisions of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) Code of Ethics and Practice. Neither the fact an employee has used the EAP nor the content of any contact are shared with their employer, ensuring employees can feel comfortable using an EAP knowing that it will remain private.

The need to support employees with mental health challenges that are becoming more commonplace, means the addition of an EAP as part of an employee benefits package can be an invaluable tool for businesses.  For more information about the options available, email appointments@sovereignhealthcare.co.uk or visit sovereignhealthcare.co.uk/business.

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