Article written for Walesbusiness.org about workplace wellbeing:

Why workplace wellbeing should be on every agenda

October 23, 2017

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Julie Jones, Founder, Blackdog

According to the Office of National Statistics 17 million work days were lost due to mental health issues in 2015. The most common being stress, depression and anxiety. The Mental Health Foundation say that improving mental health support in the workplace could save businesses £8 billion a year.

Figures such as these demonstrate how imperative it is for any employer to take mental health seriously, not only from an economic perspective, but also as a responsible and ethical employer.

The Mental Health at Work Report 2017 says that three out of five employees (60%) have experienced poor mental health related to their employment. Most employees feel reluctant to discuss their mental health with their employers for fear of negative consequences. Most shockingly, around 15% of people who did disclose faced disciplinary action, demotion or dismissal.

These highly worrying figures demonstrate workplace cultures which continue to stigmatise mental health issues. Interestingly, the report demonstrated that managers often felt they were supportive of staff mental health but employees did not always agree and therefore there appear to be levels of disconnect between employers and employees.

However, compared to last year’s report, it is interesting to note that the 2017 report claims that improvements are being made in relation to workplace mental health. There is clearly a long way to go.

There are many steps an organisation can take to make their workplace more mentally healthy. The single most important factor is raising awareness and understanding of what mental health is and how it can impact upon people.

Training can provide an organisation with the relevant knowledge and skills of how to recognise a range of mental health issues, how to respond and how to improve workplace practices for the better. Interestingly, the Mental Health at Work Report claims that line managers have demonstrated that they would welcome training in mental health awareness.

Once people start talking about mental health it stops becoming the elephant in the room and begins to be understood as a simple facet of humanity: We all have mental health and whether we have experienced a mental health issue or not, we can all learn to take care of our mental health and wellbeing better.

From this point of awareness staff can start to support one another. And line managers are better able to know how to respond to peoples’ issues effectively. At the same time, training is never intended to turn someone into a counsellor. It will though, equip them with the skills and knowledge of where their responsibilities lie and when and where they can signpost staff to for the right support.

Some of the workplace wellbeing agenda is about changing the way we work on two levels.

Firstly, about looking at the culture of an organisation and whether it is promoting mentally healthy practices. This could be stuff like considering whether staff take their breaks or whether they have a tendency to work late. What are the values of the organisation? Is there a supportive culture? Or is it cut-throat and competitive?

Secondly, it’s about looking at how person-centred the organisation is in relation to responding to staff needs. Mental health issues need to be treated with the same priority as physical health. So some staff may require reasonable adjustments to be put in place in order to support them to effectively carry out their roles. On both levels it’s all about communication.

Communication on an individual level and communication on an organisational level. Promoting an open-minded and supportive culture are imperative in being successful with these tasks.

The great thing for employers are that they don’t need to face these issues alone. Signing up to things like an employee assistance programme can be an effective way of ensuring staff have access to a range of help and resources, such as counselling.

Another area of interest related to workplace wellbeing is mindfulness. There is a growing body of evidence that mindfulness is an effective tool that can be applied to the work setting to improve a whole range of outcomes from wellbeing, resilience to things like innovation, creativity and productivity.

The idea of meditating around a board table may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it really doesn’t have to be like this. Mindfulness is a bit like brain training and learning and practicing its techniques have shown to be a very cost-effective way of developing a working environment for the better. If it’s worked for the likes of Apple and Google, then surely it’s worth a look.

What is essential is for any business to recognise that mental health is their business. It’s everyone’s business.

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