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How to support mental health in the workplace

How great is the need to support mental health in the workplace?

Considering the challenges of living and working through the pandemic, probably everybody’s mental health has been affected in the last 18 months. So it’s safe to say that it’s a very large-scale need.

Some people have been more deeply affected than others. Some may even have thrived during lockdown and may be approaching the ‘new normal’ with renewed energy. And others may be relieved to get away from home and come back to their workplace. 

Now, organisations need to find ways of returning to full productivity but with a workforce that’s experienced profound upheaval. So, the challenge is to make work ‘better’. And if we can do that, we can make sure that workplaces support the mental health and wellbeing of everyone there. 

So, how do we make work better?

Working from home was implemented in a matter of days during the first lockdown. And that proves that it is possible to make fundamental changes quickly. So why stop now?

According to Business in the Community, to provide jobs that support the mental health and wellbeing of employees, organisations can do five things:

Can we talk?

Make talking about mental health and mental ill health as normal as talking about physical health. And if a senior member of the organisation talks about their mental health, the stigma will reduce even quicker, and employees will feel supported. Everyone will be more productive working in an atmosphere that is not judgemental or discriminatory, especially those who need support with their mental health.

How about starting meetings off with a discussion about physical and mental health? Ask how people are feeling or ask them for a number out of ten to describe their wellbeing score. It will soon become the norm, and as time goes by, people will feel less inhibited about doing it.

Make mental health a constant part of the discourse at work. It shouldn’t be a big project once a year. Instead, make it visible through all communication channels all the time. So anyone experiencing a mental health problem and needing support will feel more inclined to ask for help. And employees who feel supported at work are much more likely to stay in work and be productive. 

“I am not a number”

Build more trust with employees by allowing them more flexibility about their working hours and location. During the lockdowns, most people worked from home. And guess what? They didn’t skive or take advantage of being away from the workplace. In fact, the working week increased by 12.5 hours last year!

And working from home gave everyone a peek into each other’s home lives. Did this encourage us to regard each other more as human beings rather than as ‘the boss’ or ‘that person from accounts’? It certainly made us more aware of the complexities of our co-workers’ lives. 

These valuable insights into each employee’s individual circumstances can help organisations to tailor jobs more closely to suit them. And this shows that the organisation does not believe in one-size-fits-all. 

And if staff have input into the design of their job, they will feel more in control of their working life. The feeling that employees are involved in crucial decisions about their job further promotes and supports good mental health in the workplace.

How are you managing?

Research has shown that work relationships are key factors in the mental health and wellbeing of employees. Good relationships can support and protect mental health, while poor relationships are a known cause of mental health difficulties. 

And the relationship between an employee and their manager is the one that can have the most impact on mental health and wellbeing. Managers can also help to prevent mental ill health by spotting the signs early – if they know what to look for. 

However, statistics show that only 61% of managers have received training in managing their own mental health; and as few as 43% have been trained in managing employees’ mental ill health.

So managers need training to know how to support the mental health and wellbeing of their teams. But why not recruit managers who already have people-managing skills such as empathy, compassion and authenticity, instead of only focusing on technical abilities? 

Go greener

We know that connecting with the natural world improves our sense of wellbeing. And green workspaces are known to reduce levels of cortisol, the primary stress hormone, and lower heart rates in employees. 

So, we shouldn’t think that living walls, plants, water features and images of greenery are just for decoration. Because statistics show that when employees have a view of nature, sick leave decreases by 23%. And in offices with lots of plants, productivity increases by 15%. 

Taking the trouble to improve the physical conditions of the workplace is a real sign of appreciation and support to the entire workforce. What’s more, it’s a preventative measure that is easy to implement.

Are you asking the right questions?

Stress at work is a leading cause of mental ill health. But the 2021 CIPD report shows that less than half of the organisations surveyed have a written stress policy or guidance, and 20% are not doing anything to identify and reduce stress. 

But if you’re not asking the right questions, you won’t know the extent of the problem or be able to fix it. Questions that start with ‘why’ or ‘how’ will give qualitative information about causes and effects, and help to reveal solutions. 

This kind of information can come from listening circles, focus groups or other types of employee forums. And make sure to collect data continually – not just once a year – to get an up-to-date picture of what is actually happening.

It’s also important to allow employees to share both positive and negative views about their workplace – especially their thoughts about excessive workload, which is a major cause of mental ill health.

Won’t working life just go back to how it was before?

Not if we recognise the opportunity we have before us. We should grab this chance to create workplaces that avoid risks to mental health and try to prevent issues before they start. In addition, workplaces should be designed to support employees when their mental health isn’t great because work can be part of the solution.

At SupportRoom, we are dedicated to finding solutions to workplace issues around mental health. You can read more on our blog here. And if you would like our help in bringing about healthy change to your organisation, read on.

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.