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Time to Talk Day: How to start conversations about mental health with your workforce

Meeting

Amy Tomlinson, Head of HR at MetLife, says: “We’ve made great strides in recent years around encouraging a wider conversation on mental health and helping to reduce stigma. Vocal advocates from Prince William and Naomi Osaka have brought the conversation into the mainstream and are using their platforms to encourage us to speak out when we might be struggling. The workplace is no different, businesses and managers across the UK are taking steps to remove the taboo and reiterating to staff the support services available to them.

“For employers this is crucial, especially in a world of hybrid working. Spotting struggling employees can be harder and many can feel isolated from their colleagues. Signs of burn out in particular can be hard to spot. Taking steps as a business to support a healthy and happy workforce, can help to boost morale, increase productivity and ultimately reduce absences.

“Time to Talk day then is an opportunity for businesses to reflect on the steps they are taking to support employee’s mental wellbeing, ensuring they are creating a supportive and open community to talk about mental health and promote support services available to their staff. The reality is that we all have mental health, and this can fluctuate just like our physical and financial health. We all have our own struggles but by talking about them, however big or small, we can support ourselves and others.”

Amy Tomlinson shares three ways employers can begin to establish an open conversation with their employees about mental health and wellbeing:

How to spot if an employee is finding things difficult: Working long hours and not taking regular breaks, solitary working, lack of engagement with group tasks and low productivity can all point to a bigger issue for employees. Introducing a flexible working scheduling, encouraging regular breaks and managing workloads can make a difference but it all starts with that first conversation.

How to approach sensitive conversations: Employees should feel that they have your undivided attention, stepping away from your desks can be a good way to give employees the space to open up. Its therefore important managers have guidance and support to encourage a dialogue to help recognise and understand any challenges. Simple and informal 121 conversations are key to focusing on the individuals and their health as well as their performance and workload. Managers should remember that they are not mental health professionals and aren’t expected to have all the answers; their role is to respond with compassion and signpost to further support that is available by services such as an EAP. These can provide support and are very tangible steps to address issues effectively. Responding quickly and establishing a support framework are critical.

Create open channels for communication: The first step for managers is making sure employees are aware of what help is available. Advertising or regularly reminding employees of the services available to them such as telephone hotlines or online counselling services can help. In particular highlighting apps or helplines which they can access outside of their working day. The more these services are talked about, the more comfortable everyone will feel accessing the support they require. Often EAPs are very underutilised and the support is on hand and waiting. A simple point to reiterate to staff too is that that any support, they access is entirely anonymous and what is discussed will not be shared with their employer.

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