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What can employers do to support good mental health amongst manual and trade workers?

What can employers do to support good mental health amongst manual and trade workers?

In 2024 we have made progress as a society to raise awareness of mental health, especially within the workplace. Whilst progress is a positive sign, there is still a way to go when it comes to supporting the mental health of men and women, particularly in trade skills jobs and manual work. We wanted to take a look at the current problem of mental health at work and provide guidance for what employers can do to better support staff.

It’s important to firstly look at the current data on mental health at work. According to HSE, stress, depression and anxiety accounted for the majority of sick days in the UK in the period recorded from 2022 to 2023. 17.1 million days of work were lost due to days off for anxiety, depression or stress, averaging 19.6 days of time off per case.

A related Labour Force Survey from Health and Safety Executive, published in November 2023, delved further into the number of workers impacted by poor mental health. According to the survey, 875,000 people claimed to be suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety. In 2022/23, stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 49% of all work-related ill health and 54% of all working days lost due to work-related ill health.

The LFS study found there were fewer reported cases of work-related stress, anxiety or depression amongst skilled trade workers, especially amongst men. Does this mean that these workers are less impacted by mental health conditions at work? According to further data, this is not the case.

A separate survey of men conducted by Priory Group found 77% of men polled in the UK had suffered with symptoms of common mental health conditions such as anxiety, stress or depression, although they were much less likely to admit it. 40% of the men polled stated that they had never spoken to anyone about their mental health, the majority saying this was because they were embarrassed or worried about a negative stigma. The biggest cause of mental health issues in men’s lives are work (32%), their finances (31%) and their health (23%). Men are additionally makeup the majority of skilled trade and manual workers within the UK. 

LFS data provided by HSE backed up the Priory Group survey, finding that most causes of stress, anxiety or depression in the workplace was being caused by workload pressures, unrealistic deadlines, lack of support from managers and too much responsibility. There were only 620 self-reported cases of work-related stress, anxiety or depression per 100,000 workers in skilled trade professions. 

If left undiagnosed and untreated mental health conditions can become life threatening. Unfortunately across the UK, suicide is the largest cause of death for men under the age of 50 and men are three times more likely than women to die by suicide. 

What can workplaces do?

There are some measures that can be put in to safeguard employee wellbeing and offer support to them in times of need. 

Management training

As the data states above, many employees do not feel supported by their manager which is leading to a decline in mental wellness for workers. Fixing this starts from the top down. Having managers who are formally trained on how to properly support employees makes the world of difference to employee wellbeing. Staff who are promoted to being line managers should undergo proper training at the start of their new role. This should cover the basics of soft skills to be able to effectively communicate with their team, as well as the legal requirements of HR support for employees going through poor mental health.

Mental health first aiders

Mental health first aiders are just as important as their physical health counterparts, although this isn’t as commonly found in businesses. Having someone who has been through mental health first aid training will alleviate the pressure put onto managers to be the only line of support and enable a third party, away from employees’ teams to lend an ear to talk about any ongoing issues for staff.

Creating a culture of support

Healthy workplace culture is fostered from the top. Having an open door policy and welcoming communication from your staff can lead to a positive culture and benefit employee wellness, as they feel listened to and respected for their contributions to your business. Work with your HR representative to look at ways to improve your workplace culture and provide opportunities for employees to benefit from it. There may be workshops and external providers who can run sessions to teach your staff tips for management of mental health, practising mindfulness or other helpful activities.

Providing adequate resources

There are some great free resources only that you can direct staff towards. Mind have a list of different types of documents managers can use to support their staff, which includes a manager's guide to mental health. Some of the resources list early signs to spot so you can create an action plan and intervene before symptoms get worse. It’s important to ask the right questions so you know whether the decline in mental health is work-related or personal. Work issues are your responsibility to support your team as a manager so checking in on your team can flag any concerns you may be unaware of.

Offering health benefits

Workplace perks have improved in recent years and it is becoming common practice for employers to offer a level of health benefits for staff. A lot of the time work health benefits can include mental health support, such as free counselling sessions or therapy apps paid for by the business. 

Assessing employee workload and wellbeing

Managers should already be doing this but if you aren’t then now is the time to start. Have regular 121s with your team, making this a time to talk about wellbeing and personal support and not their daily tasks. Offering a designated time to bring up issues with workload and causes of workplace stress is a simple measure that can help solve issues before they progress. You should take stock of your team member’s wellbeing in these catch ups, make sure you offer a good amount of time and don’t rush them if they are beginning to open up about a problem at work or home. Your staff’s wellbeing is always more important than a daily task not getting done.

Providing sick days and reasonable adjustments

Not offering adequate sick days is a huge contributor to staff quitting roles or becoming burnt out because they haven’t taken a needed break. Assess the policy you have for sickness, looking at how many days you offer and if this is paid. You are also required to consider reasonable adjustments for staff who ask for it so if someone has flagged a mental health issue, book a meeting with your HR representative to look at what you can do to help employees. This could be offering flexible work hours, changes to their role or being given extended deadlines.

Reduce the risk for manual workers

Manual workers are commonly expected to use tools and machinery as part of their job. If your staff member is undertaking this type of work whilst not in the right headspace this could be extremely dangerous to themselves and any other staff around them. Struggling to focus at work is a symptom associated with anxiety and depression, so you should take care to reduce the role of staff struggling. Where possible talk this through with staff and ask how they feel their capabilities are undertaking more dangerous tasks if they have been struggling with mental health.

Some more resources which may be helpful for advice are here: 

For more health and safety advice from our experts, take a look at our blogs.

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