A local wellbeing expert is warning employers not to ignore the mental health of their staff – which is linked to millions of days lost in sickness every year
Clifton-based Nicky Maidment, of PurpleMinds, believes openness around mental health issues leads to a happier, healthier and more productive workforce. “We need to encourage a culture of talking about mental health issues, just like any other illness,” she said. “It could be costly to a company to ignore the issue, both in terms of manpower and morale, whereas as talking to people and supporting them can be beneficial all-round.”
The most recent Office of National Statistics report found nearly 16 million days were lost in a year due to sickness related to mental health. Issues such as stress, depression, anxiety, and more serious conditions such as manic depression and schizophrenia, often led to time off work.
Nicky, a neuro linguistic programming practitioner, has worked with many corporate workers who have taken time off following pressures at home and in the workplace. Rhonda Hopkins, who was a manager in the NHS, took sick leave for stress-related reasons following workplace pressures and chronic pain while recovering from an injury. “I felt defeatist and unable to see a way forward,” she said. “I was afraid my injury would stop me from continuing in my role, which I’d done since I was 19.”
She was referred to Nicky through a work occupational scheme and learned coping strategies and ways to develop a more positive mind-set, which she still uses today. Rhonda, who has since set up her own business to provide medical cover at events, is also encouraging others to be open and seek help. “There’s nothing wrong with asking for help,” she said. “If you don’t, then you won’t learn the tools to manage issues and will keep repeating the same patterns of behaviour.
“When people are really unhappy in one area of life, it can often manifest itself into other areas and be a downward spiral. It’s crucial to speak up and seek help. People often feel helpless and out of control in these circumstances. But there is a choice on a deeper level about how we think, behave and react – even if consciously it doesn’t seem that way at the time.”
Nicky advises business owners to be aware of signs indicating team members may be struggling. This includes a change in mood, work output or indecisiveness and, of course, repeated unexplained absences. “Some people may behave out of character or inappropriately in the office, for example withdrawing or shouting,” she said. “It’s important to understand there may be reasons behind their behaviour first, rather than disciplining them as the standard first course of action.”
ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) said showing concern for workers’ mental health should not just be seen as a legal duty – as there is a business case for it too. The body, which gives free and impartial advice on workplace relations and employment law, said mental health support can build trust, improve staff retention and boost productivity.
Nicky, who uses techniques to help people explore the way they think in order to resolve issues and achieve goals, added: “If employers can help an employee resolve their problems, even if they appear not to be work related, then it will improve their performance.
“It will also raise morale in the workplace, reduce sick days and be cost effective for both the employee and the employer. It’s a win-win for all concerned.”