Change lives… make time to talk
1 February 2024
It’s Time to Talk Day – the nation’s “biggest mental health conversation.” Today, the campaign encourages us to convey the importance of talking about our mental health at home, at work, and within our communities. Opening up, sharing our worries and seeking support can be difficult. We all have a part to play in breaking the stigma, removing the embarrassment, creating safe spaces, and making time to talk about employee mental health.
It’s time to talk about employee mental health… again.
It’s fair to say it’s a topic we discuss often because, like the Time to Talk Day campaign, we understand the importance of creating safe spaces for honest conversations about employee mental health.
To be the change, you have to fight for it. So, at Pluxee UK, we’re going to keep talking about employee mental health until it becomes as normalised as talking about physical illness.
A culture of openness
A culture of openness… it’s a phrase often used in the HR community, but what is the reality behind the jargon?
Businesses that have fostered a culture of openness have created an environment where employees feel encouraged to talk about their concerns and problems. The concept goes beyond discussing work-based issues, creating a safe space for conversations about employee mental health, financial worries, or changes at home.
Making time to talk
There’s talking, and there’s talking.
How often do your employees respond with, “I’m fine, thanks,” when you ask them how they are?
Another thing to consider is when you’re asking this question.
In one-to-ones, once you’ve caught up on the day-to-day of work, are your employees ready to open up about their mental health? When these conversations happen as part of an agenda, there’s a risk that they become a tick-box exercise. Your employees will sense this and are less likely to be open and honest.
Managers should, of course, take the opportunity to ask employees how they’re feeling, but the time and the place may impact the authenticity of the conversation.
We must also ask, are your managers prepared for the answers?
What if, one day, the employee who always replies with, “I’m good,” says, “Actually, I’m struggling today”?
This response may throw even the most empathetic managers an unexpected curveball, and their ability to handle the situation will determine the outcome of the conversation. This could be your employee’s moment – the first step to seeking help, so it must be handled with care.
Making Time to Talk… Six tips for effective employee mental health support
HR professionals and team managers want to do right by the people they’re responsible for. Empathy can be taught, listening skills enhanced, and you can empower your leaders with the essentials of employee mental health support.
Here are some tips for how to harness a culture of openness and have the conversations that can truly change lives:
1. Create a group of Mental Health First Aiders (MHFAs) within your workforce.
MHFAs receive training from professionals to help them spot the signs of mental ill-health. It also prepares the MHFA to handle situations where a colleague opens up, ensuring that even if they don’t have the answers, they know how to find them.
46% of UK employees express apprehension about facing discrimination or social stigma in their workplace due to mental health issues. Graham James, Director, Pluxee UK
The stigma around employee mental health still exists. We must acknowledge that 46% of UK employees would prefer it if their employer didn’t know about their mental health concerns. This is where having MHFAs from a pool of colleagues at non-leadership levels could be a game changer in your workplace, providing confidential peer-to-peer support.
2. Your door may always be open, but are your employees confident enough to enter?
An open-door policy is essential for organisations aiming to create a culture of openness. Still, that message - my door is always open - which comes from the best of intentions, can be problematic as it relies on employees making the first move.
We’ve previously written that research suggests that only 2% of employees feel comfortable speaking with their employer about their mental health. When we reviewed this statistic for this Time to Talk blog, it hadn’t changed.
We can’t wait for employees to make the first move.
3. Host mental health cafes.
Remove the door entirely by creating regular and dedicated time to discuss employee mental health hosted by your MHFAs.
It may take time for your workforce to get on board, but the more often they’re run, the quicker your employees will see these sessions as a safe space.
4. Run regular mental health surveys.
The NHS ‘Check my Wellbeing’ self-assessment survey is an invaluable resource. It’s independent of your business, confidential and asks questions about employee mental health that will make your people stop and think.
Encouraging your employees to take time to complete this assessment regularly could, in some cases, be the ‘lightbulb moment’ they need, helping them recognise behaviours they may have brushed off as signs of anxiety.
After the assessment, your employees will be reassured that all is well or sign-posted to further support. The most crucial element of this exercise is that it keeps personal wellbeing at the top of employees’ minds and encourages them to acknowledge that a matter requires attention and to practise self-care.
5. In an ideal situation, all team managers and HR personnel receive Mental Health First Aider (MHFA) training. This will help them to read between the lines, hear what’s not being said, and be a true champion of employee mental health.
However, given the demands on your leaders, it may not be feasible to provide this training across the board, and this is where our next tip becomes a business essential.
6. Embed an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) into your business.
Employee Assistance Programmes feed into all the other tips we’ve provided.
With Pluxee UK’s EAP, you can:
Provide managers with the training and support they need to provide practical employee mental health support.
Train MHFAs or, better still, provide employees with access to trained counsellors, 24/7, 365 days a year.
Empower employees with the confidence they need to reach out, knowing they’ll receive professional, confidential, and independent support.
Access mental health support at the touch of a button via our EAP app, which includes guided meditations, podcasts, and an array of lifestyle advice.
Our EAP app includes a journal that allows employees to track their moods daily. As with the NHS assessment, this helps your employees paint a picture of their mental health and general wellbeing, potentially highlighting a pattern they may have overlooked.
The hidden cost of silence
The Time to Talk Day campaign aims to break the silence surrounding employee mental health and mental health at every touch point.
In many workplaces, not talking about employee mental health is the norm, and it’s costing the UK economy at least £117.9 billion annually.
Employee mental health issues cause 63% of long-term sickness absences (four weeks or over).
In a soon-to-be-released Pluxee UK podcast on the importance of effective EAP, our host and guests discuss the hidden cost of silence, referencing a company that saw the low volume of calls to their EAP counsellors as a positive sign.
This isn’t the case. Silence isn’t a sign of good employee mental health. Silence tells us that although a company may provide an Employee Assistance Programme, it must be consistently and effectively promoted within the workplace to ensure employees benefit from it.
Regular use of EAP shows employees are seeking help, prioritising their mental health, and feeling empowered to pick up the phone.
Make every day Time to Talk Day with Pluxee UK
Talking is good – we’ve established that, but it can also be challenging.
Make it easier for your people by providing confidential employee mental health support with an Employee Assistance Programme. For every £1 spent on employee mental health, you can expect a £5+ return. This includes investing in cultural change, professional training, and an effective, consultative and preventative EAP solution.
Pluxee UK is proud to offer an EAP package, flexible enough to meet varying business needs, manned by BACP-accredited counsellors who want to answer the phone, making time to talk to your employees whenever they need someone to listen.
Request time to talk with an employee engagement consultant today.