Workplace Health and Wellbeing - Mental Health
Poor mental health comes in many shapes and sizes: stress, anxiety, depression, grief, burnout and many more conditions affect millions of people in the UK. One report showed that 80% of UK employees who have experienced poor mental wellbeing believe that this impacted their work. Employers are in a unique position to deliver interventions in a considerate, confidential and empathetic fashion. Delivering effective interventions can take various forms and is in the interest of workers, their families and their employers alike to make these interventions.
Another avenue into mental health care is mindfulness. Research shows that mindfulness can increase feelings of wellbeing, decrease stress and improve emotion regulation. The potential benefits don’t end here, however, as increased energy and motivation, improved job performance, better sleep and decreased depressive symptoms have all been shown to stem from mindfulness. In addition to these benefits, research shows that effective mindfulness interventions have a positive impact on emotional intelligence — emotional intelligence has been targeted as a critical skill in the workplace as research shows positive relationships between work engagement and performance at work. Controlling breathing, thinking about thoughts and embracing gratitude are a few of the ways users can de-stress and improve their mental wellbeing through mindfulness.
Educating employees about the benefits of physical activity on mental health is a good and essential step towards mental health care. In addition to the benefits to physical health, exercise has been shown to be an effective means of reducing stress. Regular participation in aerobic exercise decreases overall levels of tension, elevates and stabilizes mood, improves sleep, and improves self-esteem. Most people should aim to be physically active every day with a mix of aerobic, strength and flexibility training. In the course of a week, at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise (anything that gets your heart rate up a notch) each day keeps you on track for recommended physical activity.
A large degree of what employers can do for their employees in terms of caring for mental health comes in the form of small acts. Being responsive to the fact that work and the workplace itself can affect mental health is a start. Taking steps to communicate the benefits of healthy actions, habits and behaviours and incorporating these into the workplace is an excellent next step. Each aspect of our wellbeing affects every other aspect too: the food you eat affects the exercise you can do which affects your mood and thoughts which affect your performance at work. Recognising this interweaving pattern and making changes to improve each strand can make a big difference.
Company culture matters when considering mental health in the workplace. An interest in looking after employee mental health should be clearly communicated throughout your organisation, and this interest should be backed up with action. Listen, listen, listen and initiate where possible. Encourage and initiate open conversations about mental health with your colleagues. Really try to identify what they think will improve their mental wellbeing. Try to be open minded and consider flexible work arrangements, changes to how work is distributed, increased transparency and improved communication with line managers.
Improving mental health in the workplace has great benefits for workers and organisations. In addition to the broad categories of mental and physical health interventions, consider the following areas to improve your understanding of mental health and wellbeing in the workplace:
Research shows that what you eat affects the state of your mental health and your cognitive function. In particular, eating a balanced and nutrition-rich diet can reduce stress and slow down cognitive decline in older adults.
Workload and work-life balance.
Excessive deadlines and pressure at work can erode resilience to mental health problems. In the UK, 10.4 million working days are lost each year to work-related stress. Monitor how your employees are faring and act to reduce their burden before it bites.
Each workforce and each worker is different, but there are some common causes of poor mental health: long term stress, bereavement, social isolation and financial worries are among these. Become familiar with what causes mental health issues, get to know your employees and know how to respond should you have to do so.
Have appropriate interventions in place.
Don’t wait for crisis to strike. Be prepared to support any employees in mental distress with a variety of resources and interventions. Stress management consultations, sleep therapy and on-site yoga classes are commonly used to respond to various mental health issues at work. The individual needs of the workers in your organisation deserve independent consideration, but that doesn’t mean you need to reinvent the wheel. As the WHO recommends, learn what has worked for people in other organisations. Understand the needs of the group and of individuals, and respond in a manner that benefits your workers in the short and long term.
Successful mental health support efforts will reach and educate all employees and will be incorporated into the everyday workplace environment. Whether employees are in need of acute help, support through a difficult period, or reassurance that their company cares, organisations should have comprehensive mental health and wellbeing plans and resources in place.