What is a ‘mentally healthy workplace’?

Healthy workplace
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We have been working with mental health charity Mind on a series of articles exploring mental health in the workplace. Take a look at the full content series today to get insight and advice on how to improve mental wellbeing throughout your organisation.

As part of Mind’s Taking Care of Business campaign, we often highlight the importance of employers creating a ‘mentally healthy workplace’, as well as the costs of ignoring wellbeing among your staff.

But why is this important, what does it look like, and how can it be achieved?

Every organisation, regardless of size or sector, needs to prioritise mental health and wellbeing among staff. Right now, one in six workers is dealing with a mental health problem such as anxiety, depression or stress – so this is something affecting a big chunk of your workforce.

Implementing changes that boost wellbeing don’t just benefit the staff who are experiencing these problems, as everyone’s wellbeing is on a spectrum, whether they have a diagnosed mental health problem or not.

Sometimes just knowing that support is available is enough to make employers feel valued.

Three in five people surveyed by Mind said that if their employer took action to support the mental wellbeing of all staff, they would feel more loyal, motivated, committed and be likely to recommend their workplace as a good place to work*.

Tough economic times

During these tough economic times, employees are reporting more sources of stress, such as unrealistic targets, job insecurity, and financial pressures.

Sometimes just knowing that support is available is enough to make employers feel valued.

Furthermore, staff concerned about redundancies are less likely to open up about issues such as stress; or to disclose a mental health problem to their line manager, because they fear being dismissed.

But bottling up these problems will only make things worse; and likely lead to decreased productivity, increased sickness absence and presenteeism.

We're still in the midst of stigma

In our latest poll, Mind found that of all respondents who had taken time off from work because of stress, 90% gave their boss another reason for their absence – usually a health problem such as a headache or stomach upset.

Only 10% were able to be honest and tell their organisation they were off because of stress.

Smart employers appreciate that their organisation is dependent on its staff.

This highlights the sheer number of staff who don’t feel comfortable discussing their wellbeing at work.

But now, in this time of austerity, it’s more important than ever that employers to make the first move by prioritising mental health and building resilience – it’s far better to weather the storm together.

Smart employers appreciate that their organisation is dependent on its staff; and that a healthy and productive workforce is a recipe for performing at their peak.

Good mental health underpins this – with employees who work for organisations which prioritise mental wellbeing reporting greater confidence, motivation and focus. There are simple, inexpensive measures that can help your organisation become a mentally health workplace.

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Interested in mental health? Here are some useful articles:

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The importance of employee engagement

Increasing employee engagement is also important – engaged employees perform at their best, leading to improved business performance.

Both engagement and creating a mentally healthy workplace are dependent on the foundations of good mental health.

Approaches such as flexible working, building resilience and staff development contribute to good engagement, while involving staff in decision-making and giving employees autonomy are key to engaging staff.

The way in which we work together is changing – with team work, collaboration and joint problem solving becoming increasingly expected of staff, but these types of working processes are dependent on mutual trust and employees feeling valued.

Both engagement and creating a mentally healthy workplace are dependent on the foundations of good mental health.

We recommend a three-pronged approach to managing mental health at work. Such a strategy should promote wellbeing for all staff; tackle the causes of work-related mental health problems; and support employees who are experiencing an existing mental health problem.

Promoting wellbeing

Effective management and an open dialogue are fundamental to unlocking your employees’ potential, reducing uncertainty and preventing stress.

Ensuring staff are empowered to have a voice is also vital – a culture where staff feel involved and listened to is key to engagement. Ideally staff should be given the opportunity to express ideas not just about their role, but also be involved in wider decision-making about the organisation’s direction of travel.

Raising awareness and promoting discussion about mental health will increase engagement, help educate and overcome prejudice; and empower staff to disclose any issues they might have sooner.

Effective management and an open dialogue are fundamental to unlocking your employees’ potential.

Other contributory factors include work/life balance, communication, availability of flexible working hours and social activities; and working relationships between staff.

Investing in, and addressing these approaches sends a clear message to staff that the organisation appreciates and values the wellbeing of every member of staff.

Tackling the causes of mental ill health

We spend so much of our time at work, it’s no surprise that our workplace environment can impact our mental health.

The behaviour of managers is really vital – good managers help staff keep their workload under control, create opportunities for learning and development and promote a culture of open dialogue.

They also know that their staff need to be treated as individuals, and feel appreciated.

Most jobs will involve an element of stress, but it’s how managers help caveat this stress that can determine the impact it has on staff.

The behaviour of managers is really vital – good managers help staff keep their workload under control.

Training managers to recognise mental health problems and support staff is important, as is detecting potential triggers, such as long hours with no breaks, unmanageable workloads, unrealistic deadlines, negative relationships or poor communication, job insecurity and lone working.

Line managers should ensure they hold regular one-to-one meetings to build trust and create space for employees to raise any issues, particularly if they are working remotely.

Support measures such as Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) and occupational health (OH) can really help, but to be effective they need to be well publicised and easy to access.

Sometimes it’s worth managers stepping back and taking stock of the culture of the organisation, and a good way to do this is to carry out a workplace assessment or staff survey.

This will increase understanding of the factors which affect staff mental health in your workplace, and where improvements can be made – it also helps staff to feel involved and valued.

Supporting staff with mental health problems

Everyone’s experience of a mental health problem is different, and as such we recommend a personal action plan be developed between manager and staff, which identifies potential triggers and what support the employee needs.

Sometimes it’s worth managers stepping back and taking stock of the culture of the organisation.

Again, it’s really vital that employers create a culture where staff feel comfortable talking about their wellbeing, and disclosing a diagnosis of a mental health problem if they feel comfortable.

Managers should establish honest communication with the employee, and this should be maintained if this member of staff has time off. It’s important to maintain frequent contact with someone on sick leave and that they are supported back to work when they feel ready.

A phased return may be considered, and workplace adjustments might need to be made. Supportive employers who stand by their staff when they are experiencing difficulties will reap rewards in terms of loyalty and commitment from employees. 

About Emma Mamo

Emma Mamo

Emma Mamo is Head of Workplace Wellbeing at Mind. Emma joined Mind in 2007 and, since 2010, has led Mind’s campaigning for mentally healthy workplaces - playing a pivotal role in thought leadership to position mental health in the workplace as a key priority for employers and Government.

Emma has led culture change through engagement with employers, health and safety professionals, HR audiences and Government on mental health in the workplace and back-to-work support for people with mental health problems. She also supports networks of employers and stakeholders to share best practice and develop business-to-business peer support. Emma has worked in the disability sector since 2005 and previously worked for Mencap, the learning disability charity.

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