Mental Health Problems – a workplace issue for managers

We are told frequently that up to one in four people in the UK will, at some time in their lives, have need to call on the support of mental health services. This figure is not just given as a frightener, it’s true. Serious mental health conditions are not restricted to any one group or category of people; it can affect any person, no matter their status or social, cultural or ethnic group. Indeed, every so often high profile celebrities come out as having a condition; recently Katherine Zeta Jones has been admitted to a psychiatric clinic suffering with bipolar disorder http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/13088787.

It does not take any great mathematician to calculate that we are all likely to have colleagues at work who will be one of those 25%, diagnosed with depression, anxiety or a more sever psychotic illness, or perhaps it will be you or me! Are there advanced symptoms we should learn to recognise?

Recognising signs of stress and anxiety in the workplace is one of the many tasks for managers. Is a member of your team exhibiting those signs – changes in behaviour, being short tempered and likely to snap, less tolerant of other people, putting on excessive weight or losing it, developing poor time keeping or periods of absenteeism, poor work output and unusually missing deadlines or targets – the list could go on.

Employers and managers invariably respond to these issues as capability problems, which may lead to discipline and even dismissal, but are they perhaps pointers towards the a stress related or mental health problem. I am not suggesting that managers should be trained in mental health diagnosis and certainly not advocating amateur psychiatry. Indeed, many people would not even recognise these symptoms in themselves. So what should the role of the manger be in these circumstances? Certainly not to jump to a conclusion in either direction; neither sending someone directly to their doctor for a diagnosis nor beginning a disciplinary process based on capability.

Perhaps a starting point could be a quite chat; “I have noticed that there has been a change in …” is a good way to begin. Sometime just the fact of simple dialogue is what is important – not shying away from the issues presented and being as supportive as possible.

For those of us that have had caring managers, we know how supportive they can be. However, most of us could also point a finger at the less caring or unsupportive managers too. Which one are you? If a member of your team is in need and not coping, do you first go to the capabilities section of the staff handbook or do you look to find out what is going wrong. Perhaps a large part of a successful outcome actually lies with you.

Remember, poor management behaviour causes stress and anxiety in the workplace. Take responsibility and minimise it!

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About equalityedge

I run Equality Edge and its unique and creative "Working with Difference" project. It supports employers and managers in gaining a competitive and cost saving advantage from meeting equality and diversity best practice obligations. Coaching and workshops are used to deliver organisational, team and leadership development, assisting in improving communication and the understanding of the impact difference has on workplace behaviour.
This entry was posted in beyond diversity, discrimination, inequality, management, mental health. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Mental Health Problems – a workplace issue for managers

  1. Alan Og says:

    In my experience, one of the main causes of stress and anxiety in todays world has little do do with workload, but stems from a fear of been seen by important people to fail or underperform, and the job security implications this has.

    Generally speaking, if people know what is expected of them, and how they will be measured, as long as they are sufficiently confident in their ability to perform to the level expected, then the chances of having a stress reduced worklife is greatly increased. The days of this type of environment are over unfortunately for a good proportion of people, as planning horizons have shifted from 3-5 years to 1-6 months. Leaders are less sure about where priorities lie because the ground is constantly shifting beneath them. The analogy I draw is that we have moved from relatively firm ground to squelchy mud and even quick sand over the last 20 years. So what would have been great 6 months before, is now not required.

    Now, herein lies the problem and partial remedy in my view ! Its no individuals fault that we are in the middle of an economic downturn, or that teachnology and attitudes have changed the way we go about our working lives (blackberry revoloution and all that). So the rulles of the game are much more complex. Where I believe that leaders fail repeatedly is their inability to properly communicate and ENGAGE with their workforce, in an open, honest and TWO WAY manner. This means that the subordinate are often left listening and responding to a quick blackberry call, feeling uneasy about asking for clarification in this fast moving agressive world in which we live in. So, the subordinate ponders, may get anxious, but pedals away trying to do his/her best, but with a nagging concern about how his/her actions will be assessed. What worked yesterday may not work today because :

    “…. well it will upset Bob for a start, and he has the ear of Ian, and Ian can be a bit hot headed … Problem is, if I play safe, Simon just doesn’t do “safe”. Yet its me who is paid to make these decisions. If I ask too many questions I will be regerded as indecisive & soft. If I do the wrong thing, (or anything actually) I will risk alienating myself with someone important. . I could try talking to them each in turn, but they never seem to have time to engage in a proper measured conversation. ”

    I wonder how many people go to bed each evening with these sorts of thoughts bouncing around in their heads. Furthermore, I wonder how many leaders go to bed at night blissfully unaware that their staff are going through this mental torture. Change, whether we like it or not will continue to increase, as leaders we need much more effective coping strategies, and thats why communication and engagement is paramount. We should be big enough to recognise that poviding active support, giving as clear direction as can be given, and listening to what our people say (verbally and via body language and behaviours) are essential ingredients to good leadership in todays environment.

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