Mental Wellness in the Workplace


No really, how are you?

In a recent article we discussed the importance of wellbeing in the workplace and the impact it has on so many areas of a successful business. In this article I’d like to drill down into one aspect of wellness, the mental wellbeing of employees.

The rise of mental wellbeing awareness

I struggle to remember a shift in awareness like the recent rise of understanding surrounding mental health issues in the workplace. We are, thankfully, all becoming more informed of the true nature of our own and others wellbeing. We are beginning to see wholistically, to recognise that we all have wider needs than a comfy chair or a dental plan. For true health the ‘human machine’ needs more than the basic physical needs.

As with many culture changes these days, the pandemic probably has a great deal to do with things. If there is one thing place where we can say the Covid-19 outbreak had a beneficial effect, it is in the area of workplace health awareness. The pressure many of us came under during lockdowns, the changes to our lifestyles, the rise of work from home, hybrid working and so on, brought the need for mental health awareness into sharp relief. That said, there was a clear shift in perception building in the late 2010s and the pandemic may well have just hurried things along. Whatever the reason, the good news is that mental wellbeing is now firmly on the agenda for all good employers.

Mental health is not small issue

Some numbers are almost impossible to take in, and the mental health statists are frankly incredible. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that the global economy is impacted to the tune of $1trillion each year by depression and anxiety related issues alone. Most of that cost is down to reduced productivity. I don’t know about you but while that is impressive to the points of staggering, I find $1,000,000,000,000 hard to relate to as a physical measure. So, let’s bring that down to a much more relatable number.

Imagine the scenario of a relatively common business size of around 100 employees. Globally speaking, at any given time 15 of those employees will likely be struggling with some form of diagnosed mental disorder according to the WHO. Mental health charity Mind put the number of UK citizens per year who experience a mental health concern at 1 in 4, and 1 in 6 experience a common issue such as anxiety or depression each week.

It is tempting to just end this article there.

The fact that 1 out of every 6 people you meet could be dealing with an issue seems reason enough to be grateful we are now more aware and motivation enough to do what we can to help.

What can employers do?

The first step is recognition of the importance mental wellbeing. The cost in lost productivity alone makes an investment in this area a logical choice. Much of this is going to come down, practically speaking, to a human resources function. In many ways the principle of prevention being the best response applies here as much as it would in dealing with any other work hazard. Mental health awareness and prevention should be considered a workplace hazard in much the same way as slips, trips and falls.

Firstly, lets define the difference between mental wellbeing and mental health. What we are discussing here is the preventative methods you could consider that may help prevent the known tiggers for a mental health issue. Wellness is about reducing risk and raising awareness of a healthy approach. The difference here is mental illness requires treatment and wellness requires prevention. Using our slips, trips and falls analogy we are not dealing with the injury, we are dealing with trying to stop it occurring.

  • Create a mental wellbeing policy that is suitable for your own environment. As with any policy there will be certain areas of consistency (some of these are below) but the important thing is to recognise that your workplace needs to be at the heart of your support. As an obvious example, there is going to be a very different approach needed to a bustling factory floor than would be needed for lone workers in a hybrid work pattern.

  • Consider the main triggers and tackle them. Stress is probably the top of the list of work-based dangers to mental wellbeing. Workloads and ensuring that the team are coping with the demands placed on them is therefore going to be a universal core concern.
  • Managers are going to be key, so arrange training. As with any other initiative your management will be central to instilling the values and practices in the workplace. Awareness training will probably form part of this process. Stress and pressure at work, for example, can be relieved by improved communication with management and by managers actions on seeing the signs of stress in an employee. Similarly, the pressure of being in management can be relieved by training in self-awareness.
  • Create an inclusive and open environment. There is more to ensuring you are a welcoming and inclusive workplace than just boosting your diversity. The more comfortable people are in your workplace, the less likely they are to respond badly to that environment. This is about equity rather than equality. Equity here is about making the right support available for the team rather than a general support for all.

  • Physical influences also matter because physical wellbeing leads to emotional wellbeing. Whether that is installing a gym in that unused room or simply arranging more social events or anything else that can be done to help make the workplace healthier overall. The mental pressure of an unpleasant workplace is a serious wellbeing trigger. This can even come down to the basic needs such as somewhere to sit and eat, water being readily available, and even clean toilets. The better our environment, the better we tend to feel.
  • Respect the needs of work life balance for your employees. The days of the 24/7 workaholic are long gone. While you cannot enforce downtime on your employees, you can ensure that the opportunity is there. Simple measures like not allowing out of work emails or respecting weekend and holiday boundaries, will go a long way towards instilling a healthy balance.
  • Create a culture of ‘watch and help’ to start to break down the traditional taboos about mental wellness. We are seemingly naturally adept at hiding our health issues and perhaps culturally we are particularly prone to it in the UK. We adopt a ‘stiff upper lip’ and carry on approach. As the title of this article suggests, if you can build a caring culture within your organisation you will start to create a workplace with a community that cares and looks after each other. The quick ‘hi, how are you’ in the morning will eventually become a real question to check someone is actually okay. That leads to talking, caring and support throughout the workforce.

One of the clear benefits of a strong mental wellbeing policy, that is then properly implemented, will be a healthier, more engaged, and more productive workforce. The main benefit though is the contribution this can offer to preventing a small problem escalating into something like a full blow period of depression or anxiety.

More and more employers are asking us to help them with HR policies that care for the mental wellbeing of their employees in the same way we do for their physical wellbeing. If you want to know more about this area, call us and let’s talk.

Download a copy of our free guide on How to Improve Your Employees’ Mental Health and Wellbeing here.

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