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Mental Health: HR's role in reducing employee stress

Mental Health HR

Stress and mental health have been big news in recent months.

Although work certainly contributes positively to mental health, providing a consistent income, offering routine and interaction with others, it can also have negative effects. One of the biggest contributors to this in the workplace is stress, which can stem for a various number of aspects of an individual’s role.

In fact, Mind suggests that 1 in 6 workers are dealing with a mental health problem such as anxiety, depression or stress.

Recent research has shown that 55% of people believe that their mental health is their responsibility. 15% say it is the responsibility of the entire organisation and only 4% suggest it is up to HR to look after their mental health.

This might suggest that HR has little impact on the overall mental wellbeing of the individuals within an organisation. Indeed with poor employee mental health being a major cause of long-term absence from work, it is in the interest and the responsibility of everyone within a business to tackle this problem.

However, HR should be paving the way for others on how to spot, manage and deal with mental health issues. In this article we explore HR’s role in this aspect of human health and how they should be working to lower stress within the work place.

Managing Management

Although HR plays a huge part in helping manage employee mental health, they rarely have the ability to work with every single employee within a business. This is especially true in larger organisations where the HR department make up a small percentage of total employees.

To remedy this, they should be working with those that manage others, helping them to spot and deal with potential stress issues amongst their teams and direct reports.

A big part of what contributes to employee stress is a lack of prioritisation. This can lead to confusion over where employees should be focusing their efforts and creating a general lack of direction. Therefore leading to an overall feeling of under achievement amongst teams.

Working with managers to understand how they can prioritise employees workload will have a huge knock on effect to individual members of their team.

This can be as simple as facilitating team planning meetings, teaching how to implement to-do lists and assign realistic deadlines to tasks. In some cases HR’s role may be to organise workshops and training to help managers and their teams to prioritise their work better.

Performance Reviews

The HR function within businesses often plays a key role in employee performance reviews. These usually take place annually or bi-annually and are the perfect opportunity to identify and support on mental health issues.

Although performance reviews are often seen as a way to identify areas of work that need to be completed or improved, it should also offer an opportunity for employees to voice their concerns or issues.

A one-to-one review with a manager is not always the most suitable forum for voicing these concerns. HR can help by introducing a way for employees talk to them directly as part of their review without their manager being present.

This type of communication loop can also show employees that their thoughts and feeling are being taken seriously. This is an element which contributes largely to good mental health.

Consideration & Flexibility

Modern life doesn’t fit into traditional working patterns. This is especially true for working parents and those with special responsibilities.

A study by Cascade HR found that flexible working hours are seen as the biggest aspect that can contribute to a happier work place – with nearly 40% of those surveyed saying that finishing early on a Friday would help to reduce their stress levels.

By facilitating flexible working hours, HR can allow employees to fit their work commitments around other commitments.

Although it is not always possible to allow others to leave the workplace early, allowing for at least some flexibility shows that the business considers employees situations and wants to help.

Career Support

One of the biggest contributors to stress in the workplace is career progression. This happens both when no progression is being made, but also where employees find themselves in a position they are not comfortable in.

HR can help to remedy this issue in a number of ways.

By detailing exactly what is expected of individuals to reach the next level limits any misconceptions on career progression. A competency framework can also be used as a reference for those that feel like they are not ready for a step up. Showing which competencies each level of seniority requires can be used as an indicator for what experience or training an individual may need.

Company Wide Training

Similar in many ways to ‘Managing Management’, rolling out company-wide training on how to support those suffering from stress or mental health issues is a key move HR can make to limit its negative impact.

This may seem like a simple move. However research has shown that more than a third of people wouldn’t know how to support a colleague who came to them with mental health concerns.

This can be as simple as introducing a short course that can be completed on a computer or as workshops where issues can be tackled face to face. Making this training a part of the employee introduction programme ensures it is ingrained in the mind of those within the business throughout their time working with you.

In this article we have explored the highly important subject of mental health in the workplace. It is clear that HR should be playing a huge role in identifying and remedying these issues. This will involve working with others within the business and setting clear direction in terms of priorities and career progression.

As the media focus on mental health and workplace stress continues to grow, so too will the spotlight on organisations that are dealing with it in the correct way.


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