For many businesses, the main focus is usually something around profit, sustainability and growth, rather than mental health in the workplace. So I’ll start this article off with a figure, just to appeal to those who are more numerically minded: research suggests that mental health disorders now account for 30% of all sickness absence and 57% of firms report an impact to their business because of this.
Mental health related issues, such as stress and anxiety can affect employees’ ability to work confidently and productively. Employees who are experiencing burnout are less likely to continue working in an environment that contributed to that state. So it goes without saying that a highly stressed workplace will have to deal with a higher staff turnover. This means more money spent on recruitment and training, more time, more effort and more energy needed.
Have I got your attention?
Businesses are becoming more aware and better equipped to deal with mental health related issues within the working environment but many are still only skimming the surface. So, how can we ensure that mental health in the workplace is more than just a buzz phrase and becomes an integral part of the way that we work?
How to talk about mental health in the workplace
Often, when we talk about mental health we are actually describing mental illness: stress, anxiety, depression, issues with food and substance misuse. However, mental health is a term that encompasses our psychological, emotional and social wellbeing. It affects how we behave, react, respond, and think. It is important that businesses acknowledge the need to promote mental health in order to prevent dealing with high numbers of employees suffering forom mental ill health and fatigue.
Unless you have specific training or personal experience, it may feel difficult to talk about mental health at work, so below are some easy ways to approach it:
- Approach mental health as you would physical health – remove the stigma, a simple “how are you doing?” can start the conversation.
- Don’t make unhelpful assumptions – no two people with anxiety experience it in the same way. Even if you have had a mental health challenge before, it can be unhelpful to assume that you know exactly what someone else is going through.
- Create a safe space – people need to feel seen and heard without judgement or fear of retribution, this can enable someone to open up about how they are feeling if they are struggling.
- Avoid stigmatising – this also includes avoiding unhelpful language or phrases like, “we all feel stressed but we’re showing up and getting the job done”, “I’m so OCD about these end of year reports”, “this review makes me want to kill myself”. Flippant remarks like this can be quite belittling; wanting a spreadsheet to be neat and tidy is very different to living with obsessive compulsive disorder, feeling suicidal or having a loved one die by suicide.
- Try not to put a positive spin on everything – this can be a difficult one! If someone is speaking about a challenge they are facing only to be met with “but try to look at the positive side of things”, it can make them feel invalidated and much worse.
- Allow people to feel how they feel, even if it’s uncomfortable for you – you don’t need to jump in and ‘fix’ it straight away.
- Use open ended questions – these invite the individual to answer with more than just “yes”, “no” or “maybe”. Open ended questions like “what can I do to help you feel supported?” creates an opportunity for a conversation which could save someone’s life.
- Respect confidentiality – trust and integrity is key. However, if you fear that an employee is a risk to themselves or others, it is appropriate to reach out to your line manager or someone able to support them such as their doctor or family member.
How to promote mental health in the workplace
Once you’ve figured out how to talk about mental health in the workplace, it’s time to promote mental health too. Here are some easy ways to start promoting mental health in the workplace:
- Mental health as workplace culture – instead of only dedicating one day or a few hours a year to a mental health initiative, ensure employees know that supporting mental health is a workplace culture, not a craze or a box to be ticked.
- Prioritise regular one-to-ones – your employees can voice their opinions and always have the opportunity to check in with you.
- Appreciate the people in your organisation – if someone has gone above and beyond, produced a good piece of work or is a positive influence within your team make sure to tell them!
- Be ready to assess the office culture – some businesses are well known for heavy drinking, overworking staff, and argumentative or hostile work environments. These can be detrimental to creating an environment that supports the wellbeing of your staff.
- Encourage a positive work/life balance – check in on those who always work late, or never have a lunch break.
- Be mindful of creating office incentives like weight loss challenges – these can be extremely harmful to those who are experiencing, or prone to developing, eating disorders and disordered eating.
- Listen to staff and create wellbeing offerings that support their needs – you could hire a pilates or yoga teacher to visit the office on a regular basis or arrange a program of different activities for everyone to try out.
- Offer wellness perks such as subscriptions – organisations such as Calm have plans specifically for businesses.
- Link with professionals outside your organisation that can support employees if they need it – by becoming affiliated with a therapist or practitioner you will have a ‘go-to’ connection to refer your staff member onto if they are going through a hard time.
You can begin to support your employees mental health at work by following these simple tips. Not only will you be supporting the health and wellbeing of your staff, but you could see an increase in productivity, efficiency and innovation. Being known as an employer that cares and invests in their people will boost your company’s reputation which could have hugely positive impacts on retention, engagement and profit. Basically, when you invest in promoting mental health in the workplace, everybody wins.
About Emily Andrew
Emily Andrew is an EFT, Movement and Mental Health Practitioner with a specialism in disordered eating and eating disorders. She works one-to-one with clients, runs group programs and offers corporate workshops designed to improve mental and physical health and wellbeing.
- Move and re-energise: pilates based sessions designed to reduce common issues related to desk-based work.
- Stress management and a positive mindset: using EFT tapping to reduce stress, anxiety and promote a calmer, clearer outlook.
- Eating disorder awareness in the workplace: ensuring your business has a supportive working environment for anyone who experiences distressed or disordered eating.
She also offers bespoke, effective workshops and workplace initiatives for companies who want to ensure they fulfil their potential impact in their mental health and wellbeing campaigns.
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