EN Editor Saul Leese caught up with mental health expert Heather Beach on spotting the signs of mental distress and how to act on them.
Make no mistake, working in events is stressful, we all know it, and we don’t need another survey to tell us that this industry is a breeding ground for mental health issues. But how prepared are we at spotting if someone suffering, often in silence and more importantly, how do we act on the signs? It’s fair to say many organisations are all over this topic, but sadly, and it seems all too often, these plans are mainly confined to the ranks of HR and rarely are these plans and policies shared departmentally. I sat down with Heather Beach, managing director of Healthy Work Company, to create a simple guide to spotting the early signs of stress.
Beach said: “The Events Industry attracts people who thrive under a certain amount of pressure. Many industries will have demanding financial targets but the unique aspect of being onsite, with the highs and lows of success and failure rammed into just two or three days; the late nights and often little chance to recover before embarking on the next adrenaline fuelled event does take its toll.”
In today’s world, however, it is all too easy for those plates we spin, at home or at work to become too much for us.
Beach adds: “Whether that person in your team is struggling because of a genetic predisposition to anxiety, a physical illness, a relationship breakdown, or caring responsibilities combined with the impossibility of switching off from work – or whether it is the work itself which is pushing them over the edge – as businesses we deal with the fall out.
As someone’s manager you are in a unique position to spot the early signs that they are not coping. The right approach can stave off the kind of disaster which puts them at home for a long time, and you with an empty post, unable to fill it whilst they are off sick.”
How should you help?
If you think someone is struggling mentally, what steps should you take to tackle the problem?
Beach, whose company trains businesses, adds: “In our business we try to train managers to support staff and whilst instinctively many have the right answers, they may lack confidence because the conversation feels intrusive, they are worried about saying the wrong thing or ending up in an employment tribunal”.
Many of us don’t realise is that as soon as someone says they have been diagnosed with a mental health issue, including stress, they may fall under the disability discrimination aspects protected by the Equalities Act 2010.
It can be as easy as ABC
A – Assess
When: How critical is the situation – can it wait for my next one-to-one or not?
What: is my relationship with that person like? What have I noticed I need to talk to them about?
Where: Obviously it needs to be somewhere private. Think about how to sit – opposite with a table between you forces eye contact which can be uncomfortable – sit at right angles.
B – Be present
Very few of us are born with excellent listening skills. In fact, most of the time we are “listening to respond”. We are thinking of solutions, relating to our own experience or judging.
Respond by using open, clarifying questions e.g. “Why do you think you feel that way?”
Summarise what they have said.
Be silent apart from using sounds and body language to show we are listening.
C – Co-create a plan
This may not be appropriate on a first meeting. You may just want to tease out as many of the issues as you can, but at the very least you should arrange a follow up. Ask them what you think will help them? Provide some resources or ideas – this might be the GP or the Employee Assistance Programme.
Involve HR – When someone has been diagnosed by a professional as struggling with their mental health, inform your HR team. They may have specialists and will also advise on what reasonable adjustments should be considered.
Making a note – It is a good idea to make a dated note to yourself to say you had the conversation and what came out of it.
Reasonable adjustments are king – Not being seen to consider appropriate reasonable adjustments is often where organisations lose in a tribunal situation. Reasonable adjustments make sense for both the individual (who wants to be in work) and the organisation (who wants them there). These may include different hours of work, fewer responsibilities and working from home.
Confidentiality – ideally you shouldn’t tell the individual that the conversation will remain confidential if you are their manager as this is untrue. It is, however, good practise to keep all reasons for sickness absence confidential from the team because otherwise everyone knows they are off for a more sensitive reason.
Humanity – We all have hard times and that person may well have done great work for you in the past and now they need your support.