Do you pride yourself in having an open, caring organisation? Does employee welfare sit high in your priority list alongside a recognition that the more your people feel respected and engaged, the better the outcome not only for them but also for the business?
Would it therefore surprise you to learn that 55% of workers who take time off because of low mental well-being invent a physical illness to explain their absence? That really doesn’t sit easily alongside the viewpoint of organisations caring about their workers well-being. And if that’s bad enough, how about another statistic from the same Slater and Gordon research which revealed that 14% of those who were open about their mental health were told to ‘man up’ by their bosses.
Migraine awareness week
Why are employers and co-workers so much more accepting of physical illness than mental illness?
Interestingly, at the time of writing we are in the middle of migraine awareness week. Affecting one in five of the adult population, migraines can be completely debilitating. In way they represent a crossover point between physical and mental well-being, with migraine sufferers frequently reporting mental well-being issues. For example a 2019 study by the National Migraine Centre revealed that 65% of migraine sufferers reported feelings of depression linked to their migraines.
Perhaps that’s why in reporting on the week the Institute of Directors (IoD) commented that “sadly, it remains all too common for workers with legitimate health conditions to be judged on their apparent lack of physical symptoms.” That IoD report comes up with a number of suggestions for organisations which are looking to help their employees who may suffer from migraine attacks.
Some of the suggestions such as being open to understanding that sufferers do have a genuine problem and enabling flexible working to give people time to recoup after an attack are simple common sense. Other suggestions include taking steps to reduce stress, ensuring that the environment is as calm as possible, and setting up workstations in a way that reduces glare.
Support and training
Whether we are talking about migraines or mental well-being or physical illness, first and foremost we should look to work with people to manage their condition in an individual way. That is only part of the solution. Having co-workers who understanding and supportive can make a measurable difference to managing or recuperating from ongoing conditions.
That is why some organisations are looking to train some of their people to become mental health first aiders. A survey by the Guardian newspaper has revealed that more than half of FTSE 100 companies already have mental health first aiders in place, amounting to a total of some 10,000 people. Those individuals are there as a first line of defence, enabling fellow employees to approach them in confidence to discuss matters such as depression, anxiety or stress. However there have been some concerns raised that businesses see the training of mental health first aiders as a tick box exercise, or as a way of abrogating their core responsibilities to employee welfare.
So organisations should also look towards more general awareness training across the organisation; building understanding and empathy and boosting communication skills. Training of this nature will not only help people to be more open and aware about their own and others’ problems, as employees take the skills learnt into their day-to-day role it can also help to improve areas such as customer service and business reputation.