Almost 80% of people with mental illness say that the pandemic had a directly negative effect on their condition. As we move past this and back to a normality in working practices, an increasing number of businesses are actively encouraging open discourse about mental health at work and in so doing, are fostering healthier environments with less stigma and more understanding. But this can be difficult for employers to get right. In this post, we will look at how to communicate about mental health at work, how to create a healthy culture, and how investing in employee wellbeing can benefit your organisation.
Why is workplace mental health so important?
It’s very simple. The single biggest asset of any thriving business is its people. When employees feel supported and understood, when their day-to-day contribution to business success is recognised, much higher levels of engagement and productivity can be achieved. A healthy workplace culture leads to better collaboration, innovation and ultimately to business growth and success.
Good health is beneficial to business.
Promoting and investing in a psychologically healthy workplace not only benefits your people, but it vastly affects your company’s performance.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, about one in every seven employees will be experiencing anxiety, sadness, or difficulties related to job stress at any one moment. Companies that invest in fostering strong mental health report higher levels of engagement and productivity from their workers than those that do not. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that mental health was one of the four top causes for illness absence in the UK in 2020 and this is certainly not solely attributable to the pandemic; mental health has been a significant factor in sickness absence throughout the last decade.
According to research conducted by the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, corporations in the United Kingdom could save up to £8 billion per year by providing excellent mental health care to their employees. This implies that organisations that invest in risk assessment and employee care programs are expected to have higher net earnings.
Promoting workplace well-being through individualised information and counselling, risk-assessment questionnaires, seminars, workshops, and web-based products could cost as little as £80 per employee each year and could solve issues owing to reduced presenteeism (lost productivity caused by a person working while unwell) and absenteeism (missing work due to ill health).
How to create a healthy workplace culture
Start by prioritising your employees. Caring for your people should always be a key consideration in every decision, and you should seek to engage and include your people wherever possible. If this is not practicable in every instance, you could ask yourself “what effect will this have on our staff?” This should be a key part of the decision-making process.
Training your leadership team is important. Identifying and changing morale-sapping behaviours, eliminating blame culture and encouraging two-way communication are all important factors in creating a better culture. Being a healthy workplace requires more than lip service, it should be a long-term commitment from the top.
Of course, maintaining good mental health means different things to different people; some prioritise physical well-being to influence their mental condition, while others prioritise emotional or social well-being to protect their mental health. This means that we should consider a varied approach to address these different needs. The other option is to engage with marketplace partners who can provide tailored and individual support.
One option is to utilise online resources, for example Spill, a remote mental health resource where consumers may ask therapists confidential questions or schedule one-on-one video therapy sessions. Spill interacts with Slack, which you could use to keep our teams connected.
Another example is Donut, a solution that allows you to be sociable remotely by connecting with co-workers over virtual coffee. With hybrid and remote working becoming more prevalent, you can miss the benefits of a chat around the coffee machine/water cooler. This is especially useful for catching up with team members you don’t regularly work directly with or bump into around the office. You might also consider a Headspace corporate membership for staff to utilise for meditation sessions, good sleep patterns, and everyday mindfulness.
Holding regular all-company meetings to keep communication lines open and to share company-wide conversations, updates, and team celebrations is also a great idea!
Normalise mental health discussions
It is impossible to overestimate the importance of having open, honest dialogues regarding mental health. Despite modern organisations’ efforts to reduce the stigma associated with mental health concerns in the workplace, there is still a long way to go before it becomes a topic individuals feel comfortable discussing – particularly with a boss.
According to Paul Farmer, CEO of mental health charity Mind, in a Deloitte 2020 paper, just 49 percent of employees felt comfortable talking to their line manager about their mental health. Although the landscape is improving, mental health remains a taboo issue.
Make a pleasant, safe atmosphere for active talks about mental health and wellness, and maintain an open-door policy for individuals to come and talk about any problems they’re experiencing.
As an example:
Make it a habit to ask people how they are doing and listen to what they say and also what they are not saying.
Encourage individuals to check in with one another – provide room at team meetings for everyone to report how they are doing. This can help you to spot any issues early.
Provide regular one-to-ones and use discussion starters that allow people to reflect and talk about their personal well-being, not simply their job life.
Take the time to listen – When someone decides to be honest about their health, take the time to listen. Keep in mind that it may be challenging for them.
Take a break
Many of us may have physical health issues during our lifetimes, whether it is the flu or a broken bone and are more willing to seek time off for recovery. According to research conducted by a university mental health foundation, over half of those suffering from physical health problems were also suffering from depression, yet they were more apprehensive about alerting their employer about their mental health concerns than about significant medical ailments such as cancer or heart disease. Giving mental health concerns the same weight as physical conditions can go a long way toward demonstrating to your staff that they are in an atmosphere where they can open up. This doesn’t necessarily mean time off from work, an open conversation might identify accommodations or different ways of working that suit both parties.
Check in with yourself on a regular basis
If you don’t take care of your own mental health as a business owner, your performance, behaviours, relationships, and capacity to help others will suffer. Check in with yourself regularly. Try to identify stresses in your everyday life, whether at work or at home and develop ways for dealing with them or reducing them to manageable levels.
According to a 2020 Gallup research, company owners reported considerable increases in everyday stress levels when comparing their pre-COVID-19 experiences to those during and following the pandemic. 25% of company owners indicated their mental health had deteriorated over the last 2 years.
Check in with co-workers
Learn how to recognise when someone is struggling or not participating correctly. Knowing a colleague’s duties and stressors both inside and outside of the workplace might help you construct a clearer picture of how to support them. Be human — social relationships are essential for improving wellbeing and actively reducing mental illness.
Every member of your team will have a unique relationship with their workplace. People, for example, will react differently to new patterns of working. Some people are completely at ease with the degree of engagement they receive from interacting via chat or video chats, while working remotely might be isolating for others. Reach out for a coffee catch-up or a lunch break together if you can — you never know when someone might need it.
“Everyone wears an unseen backpack. You never know how light or heavy someone else’s bag is on any given day. That is why it is critical to create an environment at the office where everyone feels comfortable sharing their workload. Being vulnerable requires guts, which frequently comes from seeing others set an example.”
Rebecca Gravestock, Xero’s General Manager of Global People Experience
Set limits and practise self-care
It is acceptable to say no or to ask for extra help. Be truthful about your capabilities and how much you can handle. We all have times when we need to meet strict deadlines but this should never be at the expense of mental health. Examine your workload, divide it into manageable portions, and try to prioritise the tasks that absolutely must wait while identifying the ones that can.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, everything seems to need to be done yesterday, but if you look closely, chances are there are items that can be stopped or rescheduled. You can’t accomplish everything, and feeling stressed will only harm your health and your career.
Turn off and disconnect
Whether you’re back in the office or working from home, it’s critical to keep work and play separate. So much so that UK ministers have been considering an amendment to the Employment Bill that would grant home-working employees the “freedom to disconnect.” Employees would have a legal right to disengage totally outside of contractual work hours – no emails, no phone calls, simply complete autonomy to turn off. France and Ireland have already enacted similar regulations, and Canada is presently considering its own.
“I feel like I live from work rather than work from home” (Anonymous Guardian study participant)
Working extra or longer hours than necessary has become a problem for many people as a result of working from home. The use of digital tools, applications, and video platforms has given us more freedom in how we work and interact, but it has also blurred the borders between work and personal time. Our professional lives are infiltrating our personal ones without that journey home to alter your focus or a meet-up with friends after work to establish a mental divide from the office. Burnout is real, and you must know when to take a break.
Let’s be honest: the world can be very loud. You may not realise it, but there are factors in your regular environment that might make you feel worried or nervous. Reducing disruptions in your office or working-from-home setup can help to reduce stress and frustration. While you’re attempting to concentrate on a task, email pings, smartphones, chatting, and background noise may be increasing your stress levels. Eliminating distractions will help you focus and boost your productivity.
Provide the necessary resources
It is critical to provide employees with the skills they need to care for themselves and others in order to keep your team happy. Investing in team training, such as e-learning, virtual training, or face-to-face workshops through charities such as Mind, helps ensure that employees understand how to assist one another.
Rather than merely “raising awareness” about mental health, implement a strong, concrete mental health policy. That way, teams will be aware of the resources and processes available to them, and it will be apparent how they may gain access.
Finally – you are not alone
Remember that you are not alone if you are struggling. We are not machines and things can go wrong from time to time. Share your feelings with like-minded co-workers, relatives, or friends; they may be experiencing similar feelings. Stay present and learn to recognise when reaching out to others is a good idea for you.