Workplace mental health and well-being; the elephant in the room.

When we talk about mental health and well-being, we tend to think of a horizontal line; a person is either well or unwell, they have either good or poor mental health. We need to start considering mental health as a graph, with two axes. That original horizontal line, intersecting with a vertical one, representing high or low mental wellbeing. All of us fluctuate on this graph as we go through life; events and circumstances can push and pull us at different stages affecting our mood and ability to thrive and this is demonstrated below.

Research conducted by the mental health charity Mind found that more than 1 in 5 employees had ‘called in sick’ to avoid work.  When asked how workplace stress affected them, nearly 1 in 3 didn’t feel able to talk openly with their line manager about stress.  Over half of employers would like to improve staff well-being but didn’t feel they had the right training and guidance to do so.

Being at work should bring reward and satisfaction. The sense of value and purpose it brings to our lives is good for our mental wellbeing, but the 24/7 connectedness of 21st Century life is also stressful. Promoting good mental health and wellbeing in the workplace is not only beneficial for the individual but also for business, as improved morale increases performance and can reduce sickness absence.

We need to ask ourselves, what needs to be done to create a workplace environment that promotes wellbeing. This can mean talking about mental health without the stigma and fear of judgement. 

Employee support can be provided in a number of ways, directly benefitting your staff members individually, or more broadly in the workplace environment;

  • Implement a peer support, workplace buddy or mentoring program.
  • Lead by example; Be open about mental health and wellbeing creating an environment where people feel able and empowered to talk and ask questions. 
  • Encourage dialogue between employees and employers.
  • Really get to know your staff and understand their ‘baseline’. In this way, if you notice difference in their mood, you can raise this to them.
  • Instigate internal or external emotional support programmes for staff who disclose personal information.
  • Provide workplace training on good mental health and wellbeing, providing practical ‘tools’ to help you and your staff.
  • Explore ways to support a member of staff to remain in work before assuming they will need time off. 
  • On return to work after sick leave, co-produce a plan with the staff member that supports their recovery. Reasonable workplace adjustments don’t have to be expensive and can be as simple as allowing adequate time for screen breaks.

Taking the time to acknowledge that someone may be struggling and offering them your support, although daunting, can have a really positive effect on their emotional wellbeing, helping them to thrive personally and professionally. Often, I am asked how to approach the subject, and my reply is always the same. ‘None of this is rocket science. Just walk up to them and say, “How are you? And how many sugars do you want in your tea?”’