With all that organisations have to cope with currently, if tackling in-work mental health and wellbeing is going to have a chance, employers need solutions to be clear, simple and practical to implement.
In order to be able to do this we first must have a better understanding of the causes of workplace mental health issues.
In a recent survey of 1000 UK employees over 40% of workers had suffered from stress. More than half said their job had become more stressful in the last 5 years. With so much uncertainty around our relationship with Europe, that figure could clearly increase substantially in the coming months.
Let’s look, therefore, at the most common cause of issues – and what you, as an employer, can do to address them.
The mental health “demons” of the workplace
In the working world “having to do more, with less” is starting to become a common byword! So it’s not surprising that the most significant cause of stress by far (38%) is increased workload. Incorporated in that is meeting deadlines (almost 9%).
The difficulties of managing and delivering heavier workloads can leave people feeling defeated and demoralised. The consequences can be severe stress or even nervous breakdown. Adopting strategies to help stressed workers better manage a heavy workload, should therefore be your first incentive.
Engaging support mechanisms and/or training can help staff to improve their time management and project planning skills. An essential part of this is ensuring everyone has a clear idea of what needs doing and by when; and what part that individual has to play. Look at ways to improve communication between individuals, teams and departments, where appropriate. This can be done using tools such as holding regular briefings, using purpose-made software – or simply just old fashioned white boards, so it’s plain to all what’s going on!
And don’t forget to show your appreciation for a job well done. A few words of praise help sweeten the pill of a heavy workload – and can go a very long way to help boost morale!
Financial Concerns come second on workers’ list of stress inducing concerns. Money and mental health are often linked. Poor mental health can make managing money harder…. And worrying about money can make metal health worse.
Even where a worker’s own situation is reasonably secure, that of their partner or others in their household, might not be!
Depending on the circumstances of your own organisation there may be a number of practical steps you can take to help your employees’ financial situation:
- Pay them on time – as a matter of principal it should be every business’ priority
- Provide information and support in accessing financial advice resources for help on everything from debt management to financial assistance e.g. your local CAB or Credit Union
- Some such organisations provide in-company “surgeries” or training sessions – with information and advice on everything from better budgeting and managing your debts, to the importance of paying into a pension
- Help staff to spread the cost of expensive items, such as rail cards, by the company buying upfront, when it’s often substantially cheaper, and collecting repayments monthly
Bullying is another major issue affecting the health and wellbeing of staff.
It is believed that nearly 75% of the UK workforce are victims of workplace bullying – with some 10% of workers saying it was the number one cause of their mental health issues.
It can not only result in such serious conditions as anxiety, panic attacks, depression and PTSD, bullying can have cost implications for the business too. ACAS have estimated that workplace bullying-related absence, staff turnover and productivity losses, costs the UK economy around £18b a year!
If you’ve not done so before make 2019 the year to introduce strategies to put an end to workplace bullying. Here are a few examples:
- Adopt a formal anti-bullying policy: make it clear that bullying will not be tolerated. Include relevant procedures, expected standards and the consequences for those who don’t adhere to it. (Click here for an “Anti-bullying and Harassment (Policy)” template).
- Raise awareness of the issue: ensure that everyone understands the content of your policy and the issues involved, and that an anti-bullying culture is encouraged within your organisation.
- Lead by example: start with a zero tolerance of bullying at senior management level with managers helping to identify and deal with any issues, so setting the standards for the business.
Engage support from the “specialists”
Before you can offer the right support to a member of staff struggling with mental health issues, or refer them on to outside professional help, you need to be able to identify the tell tail signs of stress. Often the best people “in the know” about this can be found in your local community. Such as charities, some of which can have a high level of understanding of mental health. This can include what the typical triggers of stress are, and how they can manifest themselves. Many such organisations offer valuable training especially tailored for staff managers and supervisors.
Helping to create a Mental Health Culture
Of course, although three of the (major) causes of Workplace Mental Health issues, it’s not just the above that need to be taken into consideration. A more holistic approach, that takes into account the circumstances within your particular organisation, would be to develop a culture of Mental Health and Wellbeing that includes all/any of the issues you identify in your own business.
Make it clear to everyone that discussing mental health is important, and nothing to be ashamed of, so staff need have no fear of discrimination as a result. Also make sure employees know there is help and support available to them both within the organisation and via referral to outside specialists.
As a first step develop your own mental health and wellbeing policy.
For help with this see “Stress Management – in the Workplace” In the HS A-Z Guidance which includes a “Stress Policy” template. Also, a number of useful publications by organisations such as the HSE and Mental Health Foundation, who are leading the way on addressing Workplace Mental issues.
When we enjoy good mental health, we have a sense of purpose and direction, the energy to do the things we want to do, and the ability to deal with the challenges that happen in our lives.
There is currently a push to incorporate mental health within first aid training – the issue was due to be discussed in Parliament on the 17th of this month.
“Where’s Your Head At?” is a campaign which is looking to improve the mental health of the nation “by ensuring employers look after the wellbeing of their workforce”.
To quote “We all have mental health – In just the same way as we each have a physical fitness. Evidence also shows that the earlier a mental health issue – like stress, anxiety or depression – is detected the easier it is to manage and treat. We want to make it easy for you to talk about your mental health at work & ensure that there are trained colleagues on site who know how to point you in the direction of any help you might need.”
Information about the campaign to change the law around First Aid in the workplace can be found on wheresyourheadat.org.