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Promoting mental wellbeing in the workplace

Written by Paula Devine | 28 Aug 2018

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has recently reported that almost 30% of businesses have seen an increase in the number of employees taking time off for mental health reasons, according to a survey conducted by both the BCC and Aviva, the UK’s largest insurer.  

Adam Marshall, BCC Director General, said: “As the world of work begins to change, it’s absolutely crucial for business leaders to pay even closer attention to the health and wellbeing of their employees - especially at a time of when firms are facing severe challenges finding and retaining the skilled staff they need.”

Why else is good mental health so important in the workplace?

A study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development study highlighted the impact mental health can have on an organisation, with interesting findings:

  • 37% of sufferers are more likely to get into conflict with colleagues
  • 57% find it harder to juggle multiple tasks
  • 80% find it difficult to concentrate
  • 62% take longer to do tasks

The study also found that stress is the major cause of long-term absence in both manual and non-manual workers.

These findings suggest that along with heightening awareness of mental health in the workplace, there needs to be a concerted effort to reduce the ‘taboo’ that surrounds it. Promoting positive mental health in the workplace and managing staff who are experiencing mental health issues is crucial in maintaining a healthy and positive culture, effective workforce and supportive environment.

Mental ill health is very common - the Government’s Department of Health advises that one in four of us will experience it at some point in our lives. In this post, we attempt to break down the steps to achieving a better understanding of mental health, spotting the triggers and signs, and managing mental ill health.

Step 1: Understanding employee mental health

It’s important employers understand mental health so they are better equipped with the knowledge and emotional capacity to deal with situations where an employee is in need. In doing so they must recognise what mental health is, be able to identify the causes of mental ill health and learn how to approach and manage it effectively.

The workplace can present many triggers for mental ill health such as stress, bullying, anxiety, among many others.

Promoting better health and wellbeing, and identifying and mitigating the risks associated with mental ill-health is a great first step for employers. Understanding the difference between mental illnesses, how they affect individuals differently, and what those triggers could be will enable employers to adopt the right processes and behaviours to promote a positive and healthy work environment.

While the stress of large workloads, isolation from colleagues, or even issues outside of the workplace could well contribute to poor mental health, some mental illnesses are not necessarily triggered by something tangible, and rather, could be attributed to hereditary illness or a biochemical changes in the brain. This is why an understanding and talking about mental health is more important than ever, as it makes it easier to identify when someone is genuinely in need, even when they’re not sure how to communicate this themselves.

Step 2: Spotting the signs of mental ill health

It is then vital after you have gained a proper understanding to be able to spot the signs and triggers of mental ill health. Bear in mind that while we should never make assumptions, some of the signs of mental ill health can include:

  • Changes in behaviour, mood or how they interact with colleagues
  • Changes in the standard of work or their focus on tasks
  • Increasingly fatigued, anxious or withdrawn
  • Reduced interested in usual activities, or hobbies they usually enjoyed

Of course, mental illness is one term which encompasses an array of different types including:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Stress
  • Eating disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)
  • Postnatal depression and perinatal mental health

Plus more.

It’s equally important to distinguish between mental ill health and general ‘lowness’, which we all suffer from, from time to time. Life comes with inevitable ups and downs that affect our mood on a daily basis, so a balance needs to be struck.

Would your employees feel comfortable addressing a mental health issue within the workplace if they were experiencing mental ill health, and do they know who to turn to?

Often, letting your employees know that the facilities and support are available should they need it, is enough to offer that much-needed peace of mind.

Step 3: Managing mental ill-health

If a manager believes a member of staff might be experiencing mental ill-health, it’s necessary to arrange a meeting as soon as possible. This meeting should be private and approached in a positive and supporting way. ACAS has produced this helpful worksheet on how to approach a sensitive conversation regarding mental ill-health.

A manager should remain calm and reassuring. Sometimes a simple conversation assuring the individual that they have someone to go to if needed, and that the workplace is in a position to support them should they need to take necessary time away from the workplace can be extremely beneficial.

Think about what the potential solutions could be and support those employees wherever possible. For example, if an employee is recovering from an eating disorder, they may feel anxious about scenarios that involve food. In this case, you might let allow them to eat their lunch in a separate area of the building, or refrain from lunchtime meetings.

If a mental health issue is severe enough to disable a person from carrying out their job properly, an organisation might be obliged to make reasonable adjustments to adapt the job or work in order to accommodate your employee’s needs. This might include changing a person’s working patterns or providing a laptop or access to remote access software and permission to work from home on allocated days. Access to Work is a government-funded scheme that can help fund equipment, software and other support if cost is a barrier to making reasonable adjustments.

Step 4: Promote positive mental health in the workplace

By achieving the above and having a firm understanding of both the value of mental wellbeing and the impact on your overall business, it’s time to start thinking about how to promote and maintain good mental wellbeing within the workplace. This might include encouraging flexible working hours so employees can achieve a better work/life balance, implementing a wellbeing programme, (there are many that focus on mindfulness and emotional intelligence, as well as general fitness and wellbeing) or, focusing on building better communication between teams and their managers. Depending on the nature of your business and the schedules your staff are committed to, this will vary from business to business.

Committing to developing an approach which becomes an integral part of your culture; one where mental health at work is presented as a priority and all of the necessary facilities and procedures are in place to protect and the mental health of every member of staff - including your own. Education is a large part of this picture, along with regular communication and ‘check-ins’, giving staff the opportunities to address triggers before they amount to more serious problems is a great place to start.

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Paula Devine

Written by Paula Devine

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