Promoting positive mental health in the workplace

This week (13-19 May) is Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK.   Sadly 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime.

In October 2017, a review, commissioned by the Prime Minister and led by Lord Dennis and Paul Farmer, CEO of Mind, found that mental health at work was a greater challenge to overcome than originally thought.

Their review, Thriving At Work, found that 15%, 1 in 6, workers are dealing with mental health problems, ranging from anxiety to depression and phobias.

Anxiety in the workplace

Anxiety, a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome, is a common mental health issue in the workplace.

The feeling of worry may be due to issues happening outside the workplace yet don’t stop affecting the worker at the office front door.  Issues such as relationships, health-related matters, debt and family problems are with someone the whole time.

The anxiety may also be work-related, caused by events in the workplace.  Factors such as not being clear of what to do, pressure of work, a strained relationship with management or peers can all cause negative feelings.

How does anxiety affect workers

Anxiety in the workplace, whether work-related or not, can impact a worker in several ways.

  • Not being to focus on work thus reducing productivity
  • An employee may be reluctant to attend work and time more time off
  • An employee may behave differently, perhaps be more introverted or emotional

Unfortunately, these behaviours may be seen as negative, thus causing conflict with other staff and management, resulting in greater anxiety.

Promoting positive mental health in the workplace

The Thriving At Work review made 40 recommendations, including six ‘core mental health standards’.

These standards include things such as putting in a place a mental health at work plan, improving awareness of mental health, encouraging conversations between employees and employers about mental health, improving the work environment and monitoring employee mental health and wellbeing.

There is much to be done but the authors of the review believe change is on the way.

Encouraging conversations

One area of the review I’m particularly interested in is the need for more open understanding and conversations.

Unfortunately, research from Mind describes a culture of fear and silence.  30% of staff did not feel able to talk open with their line managers about their stress and anxiety.  Sarah, who was going through a cycle of IVF agrees, “Not getting pregnant naturally and then going through IVF really affected my mental health, yet the culture of the workplace I was in, very masculine, meant I didn’t feel able to talk openly to my immediate boss, who really wasn’t interested in why I was so upset”.

42% had actually considered resigning due to workplace stress, with 14% doing so.  Rob, who resigned from his job, says “It felt like nothing I ever did was good enough. My line manager gave me no support at all and my confidence plummeted. I ended up on anti-depressants. In the end the situation got so bad that all I could do was resign.”

Mind also say that 56 per cent of employers would like to improve staff mental health and wellbeing but don’t feel they have the right training in place to do so.

Having the initial conversations, so that an employee can feel confident enough to say they feel unwell, or an employer can spot the symptoms of anxiety or stress and approach the employee with empathy, are key to improving mental health in the workplace.

People often don’t share what’s going because they are afraid of being judged, they worry about how they will be perceived, or that they might be labelled in some way.  

Creating a supportive work culture is essential, enabling open conversations to take place without judgment or fear of repercussions. Holding regular group sessions with a theme such as work/life balance or stress, where people are able to explore the topic and share their experience with others can be a great starting point.

Once these conversations are had, then both employee and employer can start to address their actions and make positive changes.

How can I help you?  I provide an opportunity for employees to explore their thoughts, express their feelings, manage stress and anxiety, and make lifestyle changes. If we can do this before things become a problem, it’s better for everyone. If you’re looking for something to positively impact the wellbeing of your employees, then please do get in touch.

Photo by from Pexels

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