Changing attitudes in HR
Posted Thursday 14 February 2013
Human resources professionals are great at discussing things like restructuring, performance management, recruiting and how to hang on to the best talent. One topic we are usually not so good at addressing is mental health.
One in four people will experience mental health issues at some point in their lives and many more will be supporting loved ones dealing with a mental health problem. This is going on right here, right now across every organisation, affecting significant members of staff and yet HR departments so rarely talk about it, let alone do anything about it.
The consequence of so little debate is that more often than not, mental health issues only become apparent in performance management or absence processes... and potentially not even then, as individuals are fearful of the consequences of disclosing their conditions.
Why does it matter? Some of our best people may be affected: mental health does not discriminate on capability or intelligence or experience, it simply is what it is and an employee needs and deserves support, in the same way that they would receive it for any other episode of physical ill health.
There is an indisputable link between a mentally and physically well workforce, which feels supported by the organisation and the engagement, commitment and ability to deliver business results.
In my spare time, I write a blog and curate guest posts over Advent and New Year. On Saturday 12 January I posted this blog, anonymously, from a friend within my professional network. The response was huge, with HR colleagues keen to offer help, ashamed at how little we choose to know and understand of mental health issues and committed to try and do something positive.
We arranged an ‘HR for Mental Health’ evening with Mind within three weeks of the blog appearing. In addition to this, I have been running a series of personal guest posts on my blog about the topic of mental health, particularly as it relates to the workplace. These have been searingly honest, informative and insightful.
Here's some of what I have learnt so far, in no particular order:
- Mind is an amazing charity which has some brilliant resources for businesses. Shame on us if we're not making better use of them.
- It’s not hard to make positive changes to improve how organisations deal with mental health. It can actually be as simple as regularly asking "how are you?" and taking the time to properly listen to the answer.
- The single biggest factor in how supportive an organisation is to someone with mental health issues is line manager competence.
- For individuals with a mental health issue, work is a hugely important part of their recovery and wellbeing. In the majority of cases they already know what will help them to manage their condition; it is simply a case of asking, listening and implementing.
- We need to get away from viewing people who disclose mental health conditions as ‘brave’ and start working out what we can do as organisations to better support them.
- Stand-alone initiatives on mental health are less important than integrating mental wellness into existing support and training to reduce stigma and create a better work environment.
I pride myself on knowing my staff and close colleagues well. Yet, when I sent out an email about mental health in the workplace, I was overwhelmed by the number of responses I received, either disclosing issues that people themselves had experienced in the past, or close family members that they are currently supporting through mental health issues.
Check out the excellent resources from Mind today and start thinking and planning about how you can introduce these ideas in your workplace.
Alison Chisnell (AKA The HR Juggler) is HR Director for a large organisation and passionate blogger with a particular interest in mental health in the workplace.
In 2013 we are relaunching our Taking Care of Business campaign, with a new series of free resources and webinars to show employers how simple and effective measures can boost mental wellbeing at work. On March 26 we will be running a webinar for HR professionals, please get in touch if you would like to register or sign up to receive our enewsletters and resources.
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