Over the past five years, the issue of workplace mental health has been continually rising up the business community’s agenda. We all have mental health, just as we have physical health. However, there is now the growing awareness that businesses should play an active role in improving mental health in the workplace.
Improving mental health in the workplace
It’s in the best interest of everyone to continue to destigmatise mental illness. There are numerous costs to businesses as a result of poor mental health including presentism, sickness absence and staff turnover. Positively managing mental health underpins good employee engagement and reaps rewards.
What is mental health?
Our mental health affects how we think, feel and act. It also determines how we handle stress, relate to others and make choices. Acas defines mental health as our emotional, psychological and social well-being. For most people, mental health will not be continuously stable, it will rise and fall depending on pressures and/or experiences in their life.
Common mental health problems include depression, anxiety, phobias and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Why is it important?
Good mental health forms a key part of ensuring optimal performance. Mental illness costs the global economy $1 trillion in lost productivity per year, with over 300 million people suffering from depression (World Health Organisation).
According to a 2014 study by the UK’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, there is also a direct correlation between employee wellness and job performance. A healthy workplace will enable your business to thrive amidst challenging and uncertain times.
Creating a mentally healthier workplace – learning the basics
Everyone’s experience of mental health is different, so it’s important to recognise it’s not a ‘one size fits all’ approach – it’s about making sure people have access to the right support, at the right time, in a way that suits them.
1. Assess the state of your organisation’s mental health
Gaining a clear picture of the mental health of your organisation’s mental health is important so you can identify priorities for action.
2. Create an open environment
Starting a conversation about mental health doesn’t have to be difficult. It’s essential that you create an inclusive workplace culture where people can be themselves so that it’s easier for people to speak out about mental health.
It’s also important to make a space where employees feel comfortable to ask questions and raise issues. This can be done at an individual level via regular catch-ups or at a team level in meetings.
In order to drive more conversations around this subject Guidant Global have invested in mental health first aid (MHFA) training for our employees, run by Ruth Cooper-Dickson, founder of Champs Consulting and patron of the charity, No Panic.
The impact of having mental health first aiders within Guidant Global has been pronounced. For more information on the motivations and impact of MHFA, you can read about one of Guidant’s MHFA’s Benjamin McGuinness’s experience of the training course and motivations for becoming a MHFA.
3. Train senior managers
Managers should be trained to deal with mental health in order to have effective and productive conversations with staff. They should actively encourage staff to speak out, be themselves and ask for help.
By publicising your commitment to promoting positive mental health across your organisation it can start normalising the subject and encourage open discussion. It’s also important to have an open environment where people experiencing mental illness feel able to ask for help.
By fostering an open communication culture, you allow people to address their problems rather than leaving the issues to intensify.
4. Promote a work-life balance
Employers could support their employees by offering a flexible work policy. This enables employees to be able to manage all aspects of their life with less pressure.
Adopting a flexible work policy will also help employers attract and retain top talent. Policies for flexible working take many forms including introducing flexible hours, and the ability to work remotely.
Acas provides a guide for flexible working and work-life balance which outlines important considerations when employers are considering or reconsidering flexible working practices.
Employers should also encourage staff to work sensible hours, take full lunch breaks and attend wellbeing initiatives. There are numerous healthy break activities that can be introduced to the workplace.
Inspiration for low-cost healthy break activities can be found here, and range from calming activities, to energising or relaxed ones. A change of scene or change of pace is good for your mental health, while mental health days are also important.
By providing your employees with good working conditions, it demonstrates their wellbeing is important to you. At Guidant, with 82% of our employees working to an informal flexible arrangement, we like to view work and life as a blend, opposed to the traditional work vs life balance.
For this reason, we encourage and support our employees through Open Blend sessions (a coaching tool which replaces appraisals and focuses on employee wellbeing, facilitating open conversations about work-life and outside of work-life) to ensure that employees are achieving this healthy work/life blend.
For more information on the Open Blend method, visit: https://openblend.com/.
5. Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing
The way employers view workplace wellbeing is changing, shifting from reactive management to a more proactive approach of prevention through promoting wellbeing and improving employee engagement. It’s important to sustain discussions about mental health by using a mixture of communication channels, whether that be team meetings or informal chats.
Wellness action plans (WAP) are also an easy and practical way of supporting the mental health of your team members.
Everyone can complete a WAP and you do not need to have a mental health problem in order to feel the benefits. Managers should encourage their team to draw up a WAP as it gives them ownership of the practical steps needed to help them stay well at work. It also opens up a dialogue between them and their team member.
A WAP can be a good way to start a regular conversation about health and wellbeing. If your organisation does not have a WAP template the charity Mind provides a free template you may find useful.
There are plenty of organisations that can help both employees and managers deal with the effects of mental health and it’s important people within your organisations are aware of where they can seek further help on mental health issues.
The workplace has the power to effect real changes. Positively managing mental health underpins good employee engagement and benefits both individuals and organisations alike. By being proactive on mental health issues and wellbeing a business both minimises the impact of poor mental health on business whilst also ensuring it’s fit for the future, reaping the benefits of increased morale, loyalty, innovation, productivity and profits.