Summary: Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Workplace By Gill Hasson
Summary: Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Workplace By Gill Hasson

Summary: Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Workplace By Gill Hasson

Wellbeing is Subjective

Although there are key aspects to wellbeing – physical, mental and emotional, social and spiritual – wellbeing is subjective; each and every one of us has our own individual thoughts and beliefs about what makes for wellbeing. Our thoughts, ideas, beliefs, and experiences are framed in a narrative – we each have our own story – our own explanation or account of our wellbeing and what may or may not influence it.

For example, one person’s account of their experience of depression and anxiety – how they feel, how they manage, and the extent of the impact on their wellbeing – will be different from someone else’s experience and account. In another example, a person who is physically unwell or has a physical disability may feel that they have good levels of wellbeing despite illness or disability. Conversely, someone who is perceived as being well and ‘able bodied’ may believe and feel that they are not experiencing wellbeing to any great extent.


Recognizing and Understanding Specific Mental Health Problems

Stigma and lack of awareness surrounding the spectrum of mental health problems can mean that people are often not aware of the symptoms of even some of the most common disorders like depression and anxiety. A person can be struggling but they, their friends, family, colleagues etc. may not recognize that they have a mental health problem. This can mean the issue doesn’t get talked about, support and treatment are not sought, and things can go from bad to worse.

Of course, just as one person can experience a physical health problem differently from the next person, one person can experience a mental health problem differently from someone else with a mental health problem. There are, however, some common signs and symptoms. They include any number of the following:

  • Out-of-character behaviour/unusual reactions
  • Being overly sensitive, often upset or tearful, perhaps unable to stop crying
  • Sudden mood changes
  • Aggressive behaviour, irrational, angry outbursts
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Persistent tiredness or exhaustion
  • Sleep problems
  • Difficulty communicating, thinking clearly, concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Changes in appetite and eating habits
  • Using alcohol or drugs as a coping strategy
  • Losing interest in sex or being dependent on it
  • Neglecting appearance and personal hygiene
  • Taking less interest in things that used to be enjoyable
  • Reluctance to make plans
  • Physical aches and pains, nausea, tremors
  • Self-harm, suicidal thinking or behaviour.


Investing in Employee Wellbeing and a Mentally Healthy Workplace

Mind report that poor mental health is now the number one reason for staff absence.

Every employer depends on having healthy and productive employees; valued and supported staff are far more likely to deliver the best outcomes for a business. It’s not good business sense for employers to ignore the wellbeing and mental health of their staff. Not only can low levels of wellbeing and mental ill-health result in poor performance and productivity but poor wellbeing and mental health is now the number one cause of long-term sick leave amongst employees.

Workplaces that genuinely promote and value wellbeing and good mental health and support people with mental health problems are more likely to reduce absenteeism, improve engagement and retention of employees, increase productivity, and benefit from associated economic gains.

This strong relationship between levels of staff wellbeing, motivation, and business performance is often called ‘employee engagement’. Employee engagement occurs when workplace conditions allow for everyone to give of their best, be committed to their organization’s goals and values, motivated to contribute to organizational success; to feel valued and supported and have a positive sense of their own wellbeing.


Take Staff Wellbeing Seriously – From the Top

Employees need to know that senior leaders and managers at all levels believe that the wellbeing of staff really does matter; that they are committed to providing the resources and doing whatever is necessary to implement the findings of a staff wellbeing survey.

A major part of a manager’s role is to support staff to do their job; to do their job well. In their 2016 report, Growing the health and well-being agenda; from first steps to full potential, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) state that ‘Managers are pivotal in shaping employees’ experience of work; they have a vital role to play in managing and enhancing employee well-being, but may lack confidence, experience or skills to promote mental health and well-being.’ The report goes on to say: ‘Training is vital to ensure that managers have a clear understanding of health and well-being policies and responsibilities, and have the confidence and interpersonal skills required to implement policies sensitively and fairly and have difficult conversations with individuals where appropriate.’


Promote a Culture of Openness Around Wellbeing and Mental Health

As a supervisor, manager, or team leader, speak regularly with staff to see how they’re doing – how they’re coping with their workload, relationships at work – and to identify what may be becoming stressful. Ensure appraisal and supervision procedures ask about mental wellbeing and stress. You could also establish a regular item in team meetings where people also talk about wellbeing, stress, and difficulties they may be experiencing. If your business has carried out a staff wellbeing survey, issues uncovered in the survey could form the basis of the discussion. Whether it has or hasn’t carried out a survey, a regular item in meetings could be for you to simply ask:

What, if anything, has been stressful recently at work? What might make things easier?

What, if anything, has contributed to positive wellbeing?

For those staff working in isolation – lone workers – monthly team meetings or regular phone catch-ups are important. And, for some people, talking in front of others can be difficult or isn’t always appropriate, so do create additional opportunities for communication. Regular one-to-one meetings – an informal chat or a more formal meeting – can help to identify issues early so employees can get the relevant support. Chats and meetings also provide the opportunity for people to talk about personal issues that may be affecting them such as health concerns, family issues, financial worries, or other personal matters which might be contributing to them struggling at work.

Encouraging and normalizing open conversations about mental health and wellbeing can help staff to think more about and better manage their own wellbeing and mental health and their ability to empathize and support others.


Inform Staff, Listen to Staff, and Involve Them with Decision-making

From the start, employees need to know and understand what is expected of them; what rules, procedures, practices, or policies they’re expected to comply with. All these things need to be written down and be easily accessible. A company intranet is a good place to store information; the policies, documents, and forms that employees frequently need or ask for. It’s also a good place to archive newsletters and updates.

Ongoing communication should include different types of media; simply relying on email may result in some staff not being included, e.g. cleaners/housekeepers, ancillary workers, and those without regular access to computers at work.

Good communication with employees centres around delivering relevant, timely, and consistent information to all. It relies upon everybody being in the loop. However, in an attempt to keep them continually informed. you need to be careful not to overload staff with too much information about anything and everything. Too many meetings, emails, notifications, and alerts that are irrelevant result in people either getting stressed by too much information – there’s just too much to take in and process – and/or switching off. Then they miss the important information that is relevant to them.

The way to avoid information overload and to get the balance right is simply to get feedback from staff. Ask people, individually, in team meetings and in staff surveys and questionnaires, how they feel about levels of communication from senior leaders, managers, and colleagues.


Encourage a Healthy Work–Life Balance

For most people, working long hours for short periods is manageable. But over time, constant pressure and a poor work–life balance can quickly lead to stress and burnout.

Of course, where being present is a key part of the job for people working in frontline occupations such as nursing or the police, cutting their hours without reducing the public service they provide is not a practical option. However, there are other ways of creating and maintaining a healthy work–life balance.

Flexible working is one such way. Flexible working describes any type of working arrangement that gives some degree of flexibility on how long, where, and when employees work. With flexible work schedules, employees are able to fit their lives around their work, helping them balance personal lives – responsibilities and commitments – with their work lives.

If possible, provide a quiet break area. While you can’t impose a healthy eating regime, provide healthy snacks to encourage a culture of healthy eating to accompany a healthier attitude to taking breaks.

For breaks to be effective, there needs to be a change of pace that allows your staff to leave their work. So if you can persuade staff who work indoors to get outside for a bit of fresh air, even better. Another good idea is subsidizing fitness classes away from the workplace. Giving people gym memberships and encouraging them to make use of the gym during two or three lunchtimes every week is ‘a good idea, not just because that person will keep fit, but because they’ll be out of the office’, says Cary Cooper, Professor of Organizational Psychology at Manchester Business School.


Provide Opportunities for Learning and Development

A large part of the success of a business depends on all staff – whatever their role – having the relevant skills, knowledge, and abilities. But as well as having a workforce with up-to-date skills and knowledge, organizations that promote staff learning and skills development show that they believe that their staff and the work they do are worth investing in.

Annual appraisals are an obvious time to talk about learning and development interests, needs, and opportunities. But annual appraisals don’t have to be the only time; learning and development should be an ongoing consideration.

As an employer or manager you may have certain things you want people to learn, but they might have other ideas. Find out what skills they want to learn and the knowledge and experience they want to develop and do ask how they see it benefiting them, their work, and the organization. A personal development plan can be useful. It sets out what the employee’s agreed learning and development needs are, how and when they’ll be achieved. Simply Google ‘Personal Development Plan Template’ to find a template you can download and use.

Be aware, though, that not everyone will always want to develop and progress; some people may just want to work in their current job and stay in that position. As long as an employee is doing their job well enough, they shouldn’t be pressured into taking up learning and development opportunities.


Provide a Good Physical Work Environment

As well as feeling psychologically safe, employees need to feel physically safe and comfortable in their work settings. The physical work environment – noise levels, space, temperature, and light – can significantly affect staff wellbeing. Workplaces must be suitable for all who work in them, including workers with any kind of disability. Under the law, employers must make sure that their workplace complies with the Workplace Health, Safety and Welfare Regulations. These regulations – which cover a wide range of basic health, safety, and welfare issues – lay down minimum standards for workplaces and work in or near buildings. The regulations apply to most types of workplace except transport, construction sites, and domestic premises and cover issues such as space, temperature, cleanliness, lighting, ventilation, humidity, and welfare facilities, including access to drinking water.