What’s the current situation for mental health at work?
The past year 2020-21 has been a year like no other. It seems like everything we once took for granted in our lives has changed – possibly forever. And while change can be an exciting opportunity for growth and development, it can also be frightening. It can cause uncertainty and lead to anxiety which can seriously affect our mental health and wellbeing. And that is going to affect our working lives, too.
The British Standards Institution (BSI) produces a report each year which shows what global businesses think are the most likely risks and sources of disruption they face. This year’s report shows that in 2020, non-occupational disease moved from the bottom of the list of disruptions to the top. That means mental health conditions. And 61% of respondents reported that staff morale and wellbeing had suffered greatly due to the pandemic and the restrictions that lockdown had imposed on people’s lives.
Increased staff absence because of mental health difficulties also caused employees to feel more isolated from their workplaces and co-workers. And if you add the sudden and complex demands of working remotely into the mix, it’s not a recipe for improved wellbeing and mental health.
So, won’t mental health improve once everyone gets back to work in their actual workplace?
We can’t assume that everything will be back to normal after a few weeks back in the office. What even is ‘normal’ after the year we’ve just been through?
In some senses, the pandemic has been an equalising experience because everyone was, potentially, vulnerable in the same way. It was something bigger than any of us. There was (and still might be) a sense that ‘we’re all in this together’. And this could be a handy insight to apply to the new reality at work.
How can we improve mental health at work?
There are two sides to this: what individuals can do to take care of their own mental health and what employers can do to ensure that their workplace promotes and supports good mental health. But these are two sides of the same coin. Everybody in the workplace can play a part in improving mental health at work.
What can employers do to improve mental health at work?
If one good thing has come out of the pandemic, it’s the opportunity to rethink the way things are done at work. Employers are responsible for the culture of their workplace. They set the tone and show, through their behaviour, what’s acceptable and what’s not.
So a management style that is more ‘servant’ than ‘master’, based on empathy and emotional intelligence, will promote good mental health; employers could try to take a less hierarchical view of the workplace. Less ‘them and us’ and more just ‘us’!
Cultural change like this is certainly not going to happen quickly. But any effort to improve mental health at work depends on leaders practising what they preach. It’s got to be ‘Do as I do’ and not ‘Do as I say’.
How can employers lead by example?
For example, managers should keep normal working hours and take breaks. And working excessively long hours should not be seen as proof of dedication or loyalty to the company. A study by the World Health Organisation found that the risk of stroke and death from heart disease increased by 35% and 17%, respectively, when people work more than 55 hours a week. So, it’s safe to assume that the long-hours culture will be equally bad for our mental health.
And while we’re on the subject of working hours, why not allow staff to do hybrid working and to have flexible working hours? This helps to improve work/life balance, which is vital for promoting and maintaining good mental health. It also positively impacts the company’s ability to be resilient and return to productivity quickly.
Because work is a social activity, positive relationships are essential for creating an atmosphere that promotes mental wellbeing. So, in general, managers and leaders should be approachable and available to talk to their team members or employees.
Of course, empathy and emotional intelligence can’t be turned on at the flick of a switch, but showing an interest in your co-workers is a step in the right direction. Awareness-raising courses and practice can undoubtedly improve these so-called ‘soft’ skills.
And how can employees improve mental health at work?
Because good physical and mental health are so closely linked, it’s no surprise that paying attention to the first will have a positive effect on the second.
Physical activity is essential. It’s good for body and soul because it releases ‘happy hormones’ or endorphins. But you don’t have to run a marathon. Instead, just getting outside for a 20-minute walk each day will make a difference.
To support more physical activity, it helps to also think about what you eat. It’s not about going on a special diet; it’s much better to make small changes that you can easily live with. For example, you can really boost your health by trying to reduce the amount of added refined sugar in your diet. And eating a protein-rich breakfast is a great way to start the day, if at all possible.
If you want to know more about self-care like this, you can find lots more tips on our blog here.
When you’re at work, you should make sure that you take all the breaks that you are entitled to in your working day. Lunchtime is perfect for getting that walk in the fresh air, giving you a break from work and some physical exercise.
If that’s not possible, even just switching off from the job for a short time can be both relaxing and refreshing. So why not read something not connected to work, or listen to a favourite podcast?
There’s lots more advice about how to improve mental health at work on our website. And you can find out how we can do more for your company.
How can SupportRoom help my company?
Here, at SupportRoom, we offer employee therapy for small to medium businesses. Our platform allows employees to receive therapy-on-demand from a dedicated, qualified therapist.
Our SME Employee Support platform is designed to give insightful data that allows your employees to track their progress and monitor their own mental and physical health.
Book a free demo here.