Sadness and anxiety are normal emotions, and feeling these emotions is perfectly healthy. Everyone reacts to stressful situations differently, and this is no different in the workplace. However, it can become unhealthy when these feelings are ongoing and interfere with everyday life, including your work.

There are benefits for both employers and employees when maintaining a safe workspace. As an employer, you have a duty of care towards your team, and it is essential to prioritise their wellbeing by providing an environment to support them both mentally and physically. One of the first steps to achieving this is to recognise if employees may need assistance with their mental health. While speaking to an employee about changes in their behaviour is not always easy, it is an important step towards offering them support and leading them to seek further help.

We’re going to look at three signs that may indicate that your team could be facing challenges in the workplace, and how you might be able to help if you think a team member may be struggling. Recognising these signs will generate a healthier workplace, and in turn a more productive workplace by making the wellbeing of all staff a priority.

Productivity starts to decline

A sign of an employee struggling with their mental health is a decline in their work performance. You may notice that a staff member struggles to complete the works tasks that they would normally finish, they can no longer handle their usual workload, or their work isn’t delivered at the typical standard. While there may be a range of reasons for these things to happen, mental health struggles can certainly influence a staff member’s productivity.

However, the opposite can also be the case. There may be instances where a worker struggling with mental health actually overworks as a way to escape from issues in their personal lives. Everyone deals with anxiety or depression differently, but a noticeable difference in their performance may indicated that your employee is undergoing some difficulties.

If you notice your employee has a decline in their productivity, have an honest and respectful conversation with them about how their workload can be adapted to make tasks more manageable. Employees will appreciate you showing concern for their wellbeing, and you can work towards creating a work environment where being open is encouraged and being vulnerable is acceptable.

An increase in absenteeism

Mental health is one of the leading causes of absence in the workplace. Employees taking noticeably more personal leave may indicate that they are struggling with their mental health. Nearly 25% of Australian workers take an average of 50 hours off work per year due to depression. That increases to an average of 138 hours for the 8% of Australian workers who suffer from more moderate to severe depression. When people experience anxiety or depression, everyday tasks can become overwhelming and worrying.

If you notice an employee taking more personal leave than usual, and it is evident that they aren’t suffering from any physical illness, check in with them and ask how they are and if they’re doing okay. See if there is anything you can do to help them with their workload and tasks. It’s best to make it clear that you value their downtime and understand the importance of feeling better first before returning to work motivated and energised.

Changes in Mood

While many employees aim to keep a professional and positive attitude while at work, there is a limit to how much they can manage with if they are already struggling with their mental health. You may notice changes in their mood, which can indicate they are possibly contending with their mental health.

These changes in mood may be big, or they may be only minor. You may notice a team member becoming more isolated at work, contributing less to team discussions and meetings, or changes in their behaviour like increased irritability or hostility.

While any form of aggressive behaviour is unacceptable, mood swings are a common sign of someone isn’t coping with their mental health. As an employer, you should check in with employees when you notice emotions are becoming noticeably different. This can be as simple as asking them if everything is okay, whether they want to talk, or helping them seek out professional help if they need it.

How can I help?

The best way to help your employees is by being supportive. Start by asking them if they’re okay, and if they’d like to talk about anything. Quite often, people need a supportive person to listen. Offer to help them find professional help if they need it, and help them speak to their GP or reaching out to a professional counselling service.

It is also important to foster a work environment where it is okay to need help with your mental health. Speak openly to your employees about how you can help if they are struggling, with seeking help and also amending their workload so they are able to manage their mental health and get better.

By making your workplace an environment that staff can feel comfortable handling their mental health, in the long term you’ll have a healthier team, who are capable of producing high quality work.