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Recently I listened to a speaker about the pertinence of Workplace Mental Health Interventions and wanted to share what I gained from it with you in this blog post.

In 2017, a study by the World Foundation for Mental Health estimated that roughly 10% of the global employed population had taken time off work for depression at one point or another. This statistic is less surprising when you learn that about 264 million people, the world over, suffer from depression, and may also have certain symptoms of anxiety. Stress can cause mental health problems, and make existing problems worse. For example, if someone often struggles to manage feelings of stress, they might develop a mental health problem such as anxiety or depression. Every organisation has an opportunity to support and develop a mentally healthy workforce and thankfully it doesn’t need to be complicated. How work affects us can be closely connected to our physical work environment. If you feel like you’re simply tolerating your workspace until it’s time to clock off, chances are that your well-being is suffering (and likely, so is your work.) But with a few tweaks and mindful changes, your workspace can be altered and shaped so it actually supports your well-being, both physically and mentally. If an employee has a mental health issue, it’s important their employer takes it seriously. For example, it’s a good idea to talk to the employee to find out what support they might need at work. The ultimate human cost is loss of life through suicide. We know that rates of poor mental health and suicide are higher for employees in certain industries though clearly there are a number of factors which contribute to such trends. For example, suicide rates among men working in construction and decorating are more than 35% more likely to take their own lives, and female nurses are 24% more likely to commit suicide than the national average for women.

Workplace Mental Health Interventions

Presenteeism is particularly common in organisations where a culture of long working hours is the norm and where operational demands take precedence over employee wellbeing. Also, in periods of job insecurity, people may be more likely to go into work when they are ill, rather than take a day off sick, for fear their commitment to their job will be doubted. It is this culture and these fears that need to be addressed in order to reduce presenteeism at work. There’s now a much broader understanding and application of holistic health and wellbeing approaches in many workplaces. However, it's also clear that there's an implementation gap, with many organisations not yet embracing the health and wellbeing agenda to full effect. Awareness without understanding often leads to quick fixes, metaphorical mental health band-aids if you will: initiatives that look from the outside to be forward-thinking, but are really the easy option and still skirt the true issue. This might involve providing gym membership for your employees or championing the “positive mental health movement”, all the while doing nothing to curtail the culture of wellbeing shaming or the psychologically unsafe work environment. You can offer greater human interaction and constructive feedback, so employees know when they are doing a good job and feel valued. Holding debriefs after difficult calls, customers or situations can also help allay the concerns of someone dealing with mental health issues - particularly stress or anxiety. Organisations can make sure their employee benefits package provides support for how to manage an employee with anxiety today.

Mental Health Disorders

Encourage everyone to develop a rich, full life outside of the office. People who engage in hobbies, spend time with loved ones, and take time to care for themselves make better employees. Managers have an important job in communicating organisational purpose and connecting an individual’s work with this purpose. This includes communicating and providing employees with timely information to enable them to understand the reason for the proposed change. Research shows that 70 per cent of failed organisational change processes are attributed to poor organisational health, such as lack of adequate investment in leadership and the quality of team environments. How can organisations support those who don’t want to share? These employees could have high levels of need and be at risk of self-harm or harming others if they are unable to access support. While it is a great step for organizations to offer trainings around mental health awareness, employees need to participate and learn in order to reap the benefits. Employees can also work to be more open-minded about the experiences and feelings of their coworkers and adopt behaviors that promote stress management and mental health. In practice, it can be hard to distinguish when ‘stress’ turns into a ‘mental health problem’ and when existing mental health problems become exaggerated by stress at work. Many of the symptoms are similar to those that people experience when they are under considerable pressure; the key differences are in the severity and duration of the symptoms and the impact they have on someone’s everyday life. Don't forget to send out proper internal communications around managing employees with mental health issues in your organisation.

Good relationships are based on openness, trust and respect. Regular conversations between managers and their team members can identify ways to enable an employee to be healthy, safe and productive—while maintaining confidentiality about personal health circumstances. This applies to people living with mental health conditions and those who are in a carer’s role. When team members become aware that a work colleague is experiencing mental ill health they may find it distressing. A manager should be prepared to support the team more than they usually would. This might include being around their team, and having catch-ups with each member on how they are doing. Clear policies on workplace adjustments and phased returns to work are crucial for reducing the length of mental health related sickness absence. Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), occupational health or psychological therapies can also contribute to a comprehensive support package for staff. Small businesses can access the free Health for Work Adviceline service provided by NHS occupational health services. Employers and unions developed flexible work policies (FWP) in part, to help workers achieve more sustainable work-life integration. Effective FWP might also improve workers’ mental health. FWP, such as telecommuting and flexible time off have been used for more than 30 years globally, and yet, there is little research on the relationship between FWP and mental health. Across all businesses, there are still few managers, directors and senior officials declaring a long term mental health condition. Employees tend to perceive that having a mental health condition could hamper their progression: 35% of people think they would be less likely to get promoted if they had depression, resulting in a loss of diversity and skills throughout organisations. For employers not investing in wellbeing initiatives, employers duty of care mental health can be a difficult notion to comprehend.

Practice Self-care

There is a strong correlation between the authenticity of an organisation’s support and commitment and the willingness of staff to speak up. This is governed by how supported individuals feel and how visible, active and credible their most senior leaders are on this front. According to the mental health charity Mind, at any one time, at least one in six workers are experiencing common mental health problems, including anxiety and depression. Poor mental health is costing UK employers between £33-42 billion a year. If you a private sector employer, the cost to you is an average of more than £1,100 per employee each year. Often the most challenging thing for managers is knowing what to do when they recognise that someone is struggling or is increasingly becoming distressed. Managers who acknowledge the prevalence of mental health conditions in the workforce can significantly reduce sickness absence and incapacity for work through early intervention and support. In the midst of a mental health crisis, people sometimes say or do things they wouldn’t otherwise say or do. If this has happened, then you may feel the need to rebuild relationships. But, very often, other staff will just be glad to see you back at work. People are able to empathise, and are more likely to have been busy with their own lives and work, rather than preoccupied with why you have been off sick or what led up to it. Think about the resilience, tenacity and mental toughness required to manage ongoing mental health issues, manage your finances, relationships, succeed at work, and to deal with the challenges we face every day. Living with a mental illness takes serious self-awareness, courage, and insight, not to mention the vulnerability and openness required to address and work through issues that arise from it. Communication that emphasizes that leadership cares about concepts such as workplace wellbeing ideas should be welcomed in the working environment.

Don’t just say you support mental health. Model it so that your team members feel they can prioritize self-care and set boundaries. More often than not, managers are so focused on their team’s well-being and on getting the work done that they forget to take care of themselves. There should be regular catch-ups and one-to-one meetings in the workplace. Line managers should feel obliged to raise concerns with their immediate charges, and if the employee still isn’t prepared to admit anything is amiss, the issue should be raised up the line. Even on close-knit teams, we can still be surprised by how little we know about our colleagues. Only three quarters of people with mental health problems receive any support. Among those who do receive care, too few have access to the full range of evidence based interventions. Government and NHS bodies need to continue their work to put mental health on a par with physical health. Mental health problems will always exist and we still need improvement in the access to, and quality of, clinical care available through the NHS. To create a sense of community and belonging, managers need to build opportunities for engaging with each other in the workday. Authentic, transparent, two-way communication should be a pillar in your employee engagement strategy. This way, your employees feel they are valued contributors in the organization’s journey. Discussing ideas such as workplace wellbeing support is good for the staff and the organisation as a whole.

Civility And Respect

We’re all human and challenges in life or at work can reduce our wellbeing and our effectiveness. Digital tools and products are an enabler of change and there is a significant opportunity for low cost, scalable interventions in workplaces. We are witnessing an explosion of such technology and it is vital that there is a firm evidence base that is accessible for employers and employees. It is estimated that one in four people experience a mental health issue in any given year, and that one in six employees is depressed, You can find supplementary particulars appertaining to Workplace Mental Health Interventions in this Health and Safety Executive link.

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