Five tips for good mental health at work

It’s mental health awareness week so what better time to think about improving mental health in the workplace? People are becoming more aware of the importance of good mental health but sadly, funding and action lag some way behind. Recent research shows that 37% of employers believe mental health absences are becoming a bigger business issue.1 What can employers do to tackle this growing problem?

Last year, research highlighted that 77% of employees have experienced symptoms of poor mental health at some point in their lives and 29% have been diagnosed with a mental health condition.2 Businesses of all sizes are waking up to the fact that this is something they can’t afford to ignore.

So what are the practical solutions? Prevention is better than cure, so here are some important steps to take.

  1. Train your managers to recognise the symptoms of mental health problems and give them the confidence to listen and talk to their staff about what’s going on. Changes in behaviour or acting out of character (repeated lateness, people becoming withdrawn, angry outbursts, staying late – anything unusual) can signal that something is wrong, and managers need to be able to respond.
  2. Often managers themselves are the source of stress! Teach them good emotional intelligence techniques. Empathic listening, the ability to manage their own feelings at work (no point in taking their own anger out on the team), giving good feedback, being assertive without being aggressive – there are many ways to demonstrate coolness (and kindness) under fire.
  3. There’s still a stigma attached to mental health but raising managers’ awareness of the common conditions will help to demystify the subject. Be clear on what their responsibilities are (and what they aren’t). Have clear policies in place in case something unexpected happens (such as a sudden death or accident). Show them how they can support or signpost people for help. (This toolkit helps managers deal with the aftermath of a suicide in the workplace.)
  4. Offer employee benefits that help prevent as well as deal with mental health issues. For example, an employee who’s struggling because they have to care for a relative at home could enjoy carers’ support as part of their benefits package. Health cash plans that include stress-reducing activities like massage are useful, as are Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) which provide telephone and face-to-face counselling. The positive effect of exercise on mental and emotional wellbeing is well-documented, so benefits like gym membership or cycle to work schemes are a great idea too. (Incidentally, a good health cash plan will also offer physiotherapy/chiropractic cover, helping to address musculoskeletal disorders, another well-known cause of workplace absence.)
  5. Have mental health champions in the workplace, who are trained to raise awareness and support anyone who might need help. Remember that some mental health conditions are classed as disabilities, so under the Equality Act 2010, employers are legally obliged to cover these in their equal opportunities policy.

As the workforce demographic changes, millennials are coming to expect more of their employers, so strong, empathic management becomes even more important. Lack of control is one of the key stress factors identified by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) so we can expect to see workers being offered more choice. Imagine the induction of the future where an employee can choose their boss from a selection of behaviourally-profiled managers, hand-picked to suit their personal style!3

That may be some way off, but mental health is a really important part of wellbeing now, which is why at PES, we have a hub of expert practitioners who can deliver training in all aspects of mental and emotional health. Our physical fitness trainers are part of the preventative package, and we train mental health champions too.

Would you like to know more about management training to foster good mental health, and creating a culture of wellbeing? Then please get in touch.

1 Wellbeing in the workplace 2017, Reward

2 Mental Health at Work Report 2016, Business in the Community

3 The Future Workplace Experience: by Jeanne Meister and Kevin J Mulcahy