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Promoting mental health awareness at work

Mental health awareness has increased enormously in recent years but many SME employers still struggle to support their staff

Author: Lucie Mitchell

23 March 2020

Image by Koivo

Image by Koivo

Estates Gazettes 2019 survey found that 71% of respondents had experienced a mental health issue one in five had taken time off work due to a mental illness or unmanageable stress and 40% of those felt uncomfortable telling their employer the reason for their absence. Here three experts advise on how you can help.

When it comes to providing mental health support to employees one of the main barriers for SMEs is they may not have the luxury of a human resources department with whom that responsibility rests. Without a workplace champion or human resources lead to drive forward a mental health awareness agenda the issue might be overlooked or a lack of knowledge might lead to a lack of action.

It's important that colleagues are looking out for each other

Jo Grant is mental health project coordinator at RICS charity LionHeart

However smaller firms often have one big factor in their favour when it comes to supporting colleagues who might be suffering with their mental health. In a close-knit team a colleague may well be the first person to spot a change in someones behaviour that might indicate they are struggling; for example they might be uncharacteristically snappy or withdrawn.

Knowledge about mental health is key as well as knowing what your firms legal obligations are towards staff. There are also many small things that can be done to help employees feel supported such as a commitment to flexible working where possible honesty about wellbeing and leading from the top.

Everyone benefits when there is a culture of openness and support

Michael Holden FRICS runs a small firm of chartered surveyors in the north-west of England

Most of all try to create a culture where its possible to be open. The ultimate aim should be that people dont feel afraid to say they are struggling with their mental health. People shouldnt have to feel worried about their jobs or future career prospects.

We are a small family-based practice and have regular meetings with all of our colleagues. We have an open supportive and inclusive working environment although were not pushy about it. I really believe there is no situation where support is not available.

Its much more granular in a small business. We have standard policies but our management structure is much flatter. Recently one of our graduates was worried about taking three months off work to travel but weve been able to be flexible and are supporting him. When you support your staff you get it back in spades.

My advice would be to celebrate success and create an environment where openness is welcomed. Write up a policy on health and wellbeing. Go with your gut feeling if someone is not feeling great and realise that collaboration and openness can provide real benefits for your practice. Care for your fellow colleagues; if they are not OK be compassionate speak regularly and be prepared to help them.

Care for your fellow colleagues; if they are not OK, be compassionate, speak regularly, and be prepared to help them

Its also worth all small and medium-sized firms of chartered surveyors knowing that they are not alone when it comes to supporting their staff. Make sure you are aware and your employees are aware that support is available through LionHeart. As a profession we are very lucky to have this.

Michael Holden FRICS, Michael Holden Chartered Surveyors

Knowing confidential help was available was key to my recovery

Dave Vernon MRICS is senior project manager at property and construction consultant Edge

In 2015 after feeling low for a number of weeks I approached my line manager at the time and explained that something didnt feel quite right. I was signposted to the staff wellbeing and counselling service and after an initial consultation I was offered eight talking therapy sessions with a counsellor.

This support was vital for me. It gave me a space to really understand what I was going through and eventually develop a plan for getting better. I actually returned for a further eight sessions a few months later to discuss my recovery as well as moving on to the next phase of making changes to my life. Without this support Im not sure where I would have been.

Its vital that anyone with a mental health issue knows there is somebody within their organisation who they can approach confidentially to talk about their concerns. The need for this outlet is a crucial first step in getting people the longer-term help that they might need. People are often concerned about how their mental health issues will affect their work relationships and how theyre perceived. Employers need to make it clear that mental wellbeing is taken seriously that it will be treated as importantly as physical wellbeing and there will be no detrimental effect to individuals for voicing any concerns they might have.

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