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Episode 2: How to manage mental health at work


Episode 2: How to manage mental health at work

My name is Jonathan Richards and in this episode we’re digging deeper into the topic of mental health in the workplace.

I’m joined by Jacqui Mann (JM), Clive Stone (CS) and Marteka Swaby (MS) but I’ll let them introduce themselves. So, join us as we explore what triggers stress in the workplace, as well as the tools and training initiatives that are available for small businesses. 

My goal was to get some insight into how businesses actually challenge the stigma of mental health and what they can do to become truly supportive places to work.

That’s enough from me so let’s get started.

Episode 2 guests:

MS: Hi my name is Marteka Swaby, I am a psychotherapist by background. I run a company called Benevolent Health, where we're improving emotional wellbeing through coaching, consulting and mentoring, and it's a real honour to be here today and hopefully add some value to your listeners.

JM: Hi my name is Jacqui Mann and I run the company JM associates. We specialise in creating great places to work for entrepreneurial business owners who employ between 10 to 200 staff. Culture is one of the things that I'm really passionate about and helping them make their workplace a great place to work. Last year I published my book on Recruit, Inspire and Retain, so we also provide the foundations to businesses by looking at their employment contracts and the basic HR stuff but culture is the thing that I really, really am passionate about. 

CS: Yeah, I'm Clive Stone and I run a charity in Guildford, called Oakleaf Enterprise, a mental health charity. We work with adults who have a whole range of mental health problems - some of which are quite severe. We provide a range of wellbeing activities and for some, help them to get back into work. My sort of journey into this, the past 20-odd-years is that I trained as a therapist some time ago - and felt that I wanted to do something that wasn't just benefiting a business. I wandered into this job and discovered my own mental health problems en route.

JR: Okay, well thanks for that and as I say welcome to Breathe HQ in a very rainy part of Sussex. Let's try and get an understanding around the table as to:

How do managers define mental health, particularly mental health in the workplace?

Listen to the podcast for the full episode. In a nutshell, we spoke about: 

What is the difference between mental health and mental illness?

  • Easy to stigmatise and confuse with illness. Everyone has mental health. We all have various scales resilience;
  • Mental illness is linked to diagnosis; depression, anxiety, schizophrenia.

Challenging the stigma:

  • The cup or stress bucket analogy;

  • Is there a mental health spectrum?

  • Mental health in the media:

    • Typical misconceptions around mental health, crime and getting back to work.

Hopefully through what we're doing here today, perhaps, we can go some way to a mediating some of those fears. - Clive Stone.


mental health stigma-min


Typical mental health issues that HR face:

We then discussed what typical mental health issues that HR consultants and particularly the smaller SMEs face:

FIT note/ GP sick notes - employees who are signed off:

  • What does 'stress' mean? What are the next steps?
  • Employer/employee support can be scary.
  • The education gap for support is bigger than we think.
  • You cannot see mental illness or mental ill-health. 
  • SMEs are fearful of saying the wrong thing and ending up in an employment tribunal.

... if you take your preventative perspective and look at mental health on the spectrum, I think there are often opportunities before getting signed off or the disciplinary process that organisations can  perhaps be much more proactive in. - Marteka Swaby.


How to manage an employee's disclosure:

  • Preventative mental health vs employee absences and disciplinary procedures.
  • Create a listening space/ safe environment.

Reflective listening techniques and change conversations OARS:

  • Open questions;
  • Affirmations;
  • Reflective listening, paraphrasing; and 
  • Summarising.

Unfortunately, what we see a lot of the time is that managers actually aren't given any people management training whatsoever... what we see as the touchy feely people stuff isn't given the importance it needs. We often get people saying, this manager is not performing, but when they were doing this role they were brilliant. But what training have you given them? - Jacqui Mann. 


Why managers need mental health training:

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Leaders' mental health:

  • Can leaders have mental ill-health / illness?
  • What is burnout?
  • Mindfulness and techniques that leaders use:
    • Teach their team the techniques they use, meditation, yoga, etc.
    • Vulnerability helps to build trust and helps peers to open up.
    • Peer-to-peer stories
  • Fear the stigma and the effect it would have on their business.

I wonder how many of my team know that I meditate every morning before I get to the office? It's not just about modelling it, how do we admit it? - Jonathan Richards.

Don't be scared of failure. Social media groups are very good at glossing over the loses or hardships. Opening up about this and vocalising your loses helps to display humility and vulnerability. This helps to keep people engaged. 

Resources and top tips:

  • Walk at lunchtime/ walking meetings;
  • Informal chats/check-ins/regular one-to-ones;
  • Flexible hours/ reasonable adjustments;
  • Prevention is better than cure - set guidelines and support techniques;
  • Link with other companies for staff training to reduce costs;
  • MHFA training;
  • Invest in your workplace culture;
  • Leaders and managers to practise what they preach;
  • Use positive company culture to improve wellbeing;
  • Make people important within your company values;
  • Sex, age or responsibility, everyone can be treated fairly; 
  • BYOB - Bring your Own Breakfast - Space to Breathe/ Time to Change fortnightly morning; 
  • Books and reading. Encourage staff to book swap. 
  • Don't be too prescriptive. Variety is key.

What's the one message you'd like to get across to SMEs about how to become more mental health aware in their business:

CS: Don't be afraid to ask the questions. If you feel uncomfortable, perhaps get someone else to. If you have a hunch, it's best to tackle it straight away. 

JM: Prevention is better than cure. What can we do, what are the signs and symptoms and what will you do once you see those signs. Don't wait until it happens. How can you support your employees? 

MS: Let's switch the conversation away from mental illness, let's switch it to mental health.

Thanks to our contributors and panelists for such a great discussion on challenging the stigma of mental health at work. You can contact Marteka, Jacqui and Clive by selecting below:

Join us next time, where we're taking the People Project Podcast in-house and talking to the Breathe team. Watch this space. 

Thanks for listening. 

Please note: This post is a mere taster of the full episode. Subscribe to The People Project Podcast from your chosen podcast provider, or hit play from the audio file at the top of the page. 

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