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Mental Health In The Workplace

Black Dog Under Table
This Black Dog Makes Me Feel Good

It’s been well documented that this year has presented different and added stress factors. For example, increased working from home can create the ‘always on’ status and increased feelings of loneliness. Managers have experienced a very busy year and may be suffering with burnout themselves. We all need to be aware of our own mental health presentation.

As managers, there’s a tricky line of being even more involved in employee’s home life during the working days while also trusting them to deliver without the usual proximity. We sometimes need to intervene with time management and encourage staff to make breakaway movements from their desk and encourage them to re-arrange their working day- but Not to extend it. Those who already have a company culture which doesn’t clock your 9 -5 presence, who don’t helicopter how the key reporting stats are delivered, as long as they are delivered on time, and who have a good leader-member exchange relationships will naturally fair better.

Nobody could deny that good mental health is an asset. It stands to reason that enabling yourself and your teams to cope well with the change, help them stabilise during times of uncertainty and be the ‘best version of themselves will, in turn, improve the overall working environment and productivity.

Gallwey’s equation on performance psychology sets it out clearly:  

Performance = Potential - Interference

As with all equations, each component is dependant on the other and, if we adjust one component it affects the others. We can’t directly affect the ‘performance output’ and no one knows their full potential (it’s dependant on so many things) but we can reduce the interference to reduce the negative impact that has on our potential! If we think of the ‘interference’ as being fear in one of its many forms- so, stress, worry, avoidance hopelessness, over-dependency, the need to control, impatience, anger are all interferences; as are any mental health issues. The more we can manage those interferences and try to stabilise our team’s mental health the better everyone’s performance will be.

We’ve all got so much to do though- we surely can’t expect everyone to have psychological aptitude in the skills toolkit! Particularly in the world of recruitment- how can we be in touch with our candidates, clients and our own teams?

  • Have policies, well-being strategies to refer to. Is there a (or many) natural well-being officer/s among the team. Mental health first aiders?
  • We make sure we have a culture of safety and well being.
  • If our general conversation and attitude is usually indifferent or intolerant towards people’s ‘interferences’ we can’t suddenly fake empathy. People will be wary of your intentions if you suddenly start asking questions about their mental health if that’s not your usual way! If your question doesn’t ‘land well’, it will not feel comfortable or be answered honestly.
  • If people are not genuinely engaged- they will usually pretend they are “fine”.
  • If you have the right culture, (and Only if you do have the right culture, can you then-) Ask the right questions!
  • Increase opportunities to communicate.
  • Make wellbeing conversations part of performance evaluations. Perhaps include a check-in with an allocated ‘well-being officer’ part of the overall process.
  • Understand where your capabilities stop and when you need to ‘pass it on’.
  • We can be compassionate, help where we can, refer when we need to and set realistic timelines.
  • Set boundaries and expectations in an empathetic way.
  • Be careful that we are not crossing a line or being too intrusive- make sure tricky conversations are genuinely well-being led.
  • We are all more conscious of mental health and stigma is becoming less of an obstacle to getting help for mental health issues. So, our teams, clients and candidates will be looking more and more for signs that we are providing a place of mental health safety- we need to make sure we do.
  • No lip-service. Don’t promise what we can’t deliver.
  • Take a pulse survey- listen to people. What do people want? Is what we’re doing working right now? Is it beneficial?

Challenges are different now- what worked before, may not work now.

Mental health is a very complex issue- we all have different backgrounds, sex, age, physical health, genetics, let alone day-to-day triggers. What works for one will not necessarily work for all. We are not all mental health professionals and therefore, absolutely not expected to be able to deal with and solve all issues! However, people’s mental health is as much a part of company employment issues as any other issue we get involved in as recruitment professionals. As an SME we may not have that HR layer that larger companies can benefit from and nor will many of our clients. We need to make sure we are as informed as we can be, so we can continue to be consultative for our clients and candidates, and also give ourselves the best performance opportunity.


About the author

Angela Hooper

Angela has been part of the Impact family, supporting the team behind the scenes, since day one. As a primary school educator and recruiter, Angela has built up brilliant skills in conflict management, strategic thinking and diplomacy – though we’re not sure if that’s because of the recruitment or primary school environments! In between jobs and studying, Angela enjoys being active, travelling and spending time with her family.