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Supporting mental wellbeing in the workplace

Why should employers care about mental health?

The World Health Organisation defines mental health as “A state of wellbeing in which every individual realises their potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and make a  contribution to their community.”

Work contributes a great deal in our mental health and wellbeing. The Royal College of Psychiatrists claims that work is central to many people’s happiness, as it provides not only the money we need to live, but also social interaction and support, as well as keeping us physically and mentally active. Through work, we develop new skills and gain new knowledge, resulting in a sense of competence. It can also give social status, identity, personal accomplishment, and supply structure and a meaningful use of time.

However, work can also contribute to illness. Mental ill health is usually the result of a combination of work and other factors, such as changes at work or homelife, longer hours or intense workload, financial pressures, relationship problems and caring responsibilities.

A person’s workplace needs to be understanding of mental health or it can cause or worsen mental ill health. Anxiety, depression, and stress-related disorders are among the most common issues that result. A stressful work environment – typically where employees face high demands, while having little autonomy and poor supporting – is considered toxic and undermines the health and wellbeing benefits that ‘good’ work brings.

There has been much exploration into methods of maximising an employee’s productivity, but it is being increasingly recognised that the best way to do this is avoid creating a high-pressure environment and ensuring employees are able to be heard about their concerns and receive support.

What can we do to support our employees?

Training for senior and line managers

Managers are on the front-line when it comes to the health of your employees. Set out practical guidance and step-by-step approaches to help them create a healthy working environment for their team. Ensure they are trained to recognise the first signs of mental ill health and have the means to support staff who are experiencing issues.

Create a positive and understanding environment

Your employees should feel confident to talk openly with their manager about any problems they are experiencing, and that they can trust that they will be handled with due care and respect.

A workplace initiative to raise awareness around mental health can help ensure your employees are able to recognise potential issues and know the correct actions to take to solve them.

Recognise and include mental health as part of your health and safety agenda

It is important to officially recognise mental ill health in your workplace, and to have procedures in place to support employees at all stages. Employees with mental ill health may have adverse reactions to pressure and demands placed upon them.

Ensure a balanced workload

Work can affect mental health in different ways – always doing overly-repetitive ‘low-impact’ jobs, or simply not being given enough work to do, can lead to boredom and an employee feeling undervalued, while endless high-pressure ‘last-minute’ jobs are a source of stress and anxiety. It’s important to ensure employees are not always at either extreme and are given times to ‘depressurize’ following intense periods.

Check in with employees on their situation at regular intervals

For example, if you have monthly one-to-one meetings with staff, ensure there is time reserved to talk about their health and wellbeing as well.

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Anthony Stewart

Anthony was manager for the SW!TCH Lives team.

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