Unlike a physical injury, mental ill-health is something people often find hard to deal with. The first step is learning how to listen, argues Trevor Bell, an award-winning trainer who works with Mental Health First Aid England.

There is huge stigma and misinformation relating to mental health in this country, which is strange when you consider that as many as one in four of us will, in any given year, experience a mental health issue of such severity it requires specific help, support or intervention.

We all know these are challenging times. Salon owners, employees and clients are all under pressure. This can, in turn, affect our relationships, our personalities and, of course, our ability to manage our personal and professional lives.

Economic pressures mean salons can’t afford to "carry" staff who aren’t pulling their weight. But, at the same time, nor can salons afford to lose valued staff just because they’ve failed properly to manage or support them.

This is why we have heard a lot over the past few years of organisations needing to build "resilience" among their workers; to encourage an ability to adapt to change, uncertainty or adversity, to, in essence, be able to bounce back and take the rough with the smooth.

Some people are naturally resilient. But resilience is also something that can be learnt and, more importantly something employees can take on board from how you behave, communicate, coach and mentor.

Business managers who offer good role models and demonstrate they understand the importance of employee health and wellbeing can reap rewards in terms of more engaged, loyal, "up" and resilient employees.

A salon owner is often much more than just an employer; you’ll be an adviser, confidante, counsellor and general problem solver. Yet the other side of the coin is a salon can be a creative, high pressure (and often physically small) environment where tensions and pressures can be amplified.

Identify the signs

Mental ill-health can also be particularly challenging in that, unlike a broken leg or sprained wrist, it’s not visible and can affect people in different ways, with different trigger points.

When we begin to feel mentally in crisis our behaviours subtly change, and it is worth being aware of this.

Early signs can be:

  • mood changes
  • being snappy
  • being unusually quiet
  • not wanting to engage with colleagues or clients
  • becoming emotional
  • increased absences
  • inappropriate behaviours
  • longer attendance at work
  • taking longer to carry out routine tasks
  • petty theft
  • self criticism
  • impaired memory or concentration
  • weight loss or gain
  • unexplained aches and pains
  • alcohol and drug experimentation

What salon owners can do is learn to identify these warning signs, learn how to open conversations with staff and learn the importance of good day-to-day management in the context of employee wellbeing and resilience.

For example, praise and positive feedback (or at the very least feedback designed to improve rather than criticise) can help, as can giving staff a modicum of control over their work and leading by example, for instance making a point of limiting your salon hours to show the importance of work-life balance.

The Health and Safety Executive identifies six key areas of work design that, if not properly managed, can be associated with poor mental health and wellbeing and which, in effect, can be triggers of workplace stress. It is worth being aware of these.

Finally, a key issue I address with managers is being able to listen effectively and non-judgmentally. This is important to encourage people to come forward and open up. If you think you are going to be judged or criticised the moment you open your mouth then you are more likely to bottle things up.

Learn to listen

Learning to listen to someone – really listen – is not only a great personal tool but will benefit the business too. For someone going through a crisis or having difficulties this can be the first, key step to forming and maintaining trust, allowing that staff member to open up and tell you what it is that’s bothering them, something that just in itself can often be hugely beneficial.

What the HSE says

The HSE’s stress management standards outline six key primary sources of stress at work. These are:

  • Demands – workload, work patterns and the work environment.
  • Control – how much say a person has in the way they do their work.
  • Support – the encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues.
  • Relationships – promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour.
  • Role – whether people understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures they do not have conflicting roles.
  • Change – how organisational change (large or small) is managed and communicated.

 Trevor Bell - Trainer with Mental Health First Aid England