A guide to improving your workplace’s wellbeing
We spend a huge amount of our lives at work. We might spend almost as much time with our colleagues as we do with our close friends and family. What happens at work can greatly impact our mental health and wellbeing, and our wellbeing can dramatically affect our work performance.
The state of mental health in UK workplaces
Poor mental health at work isn’t a small problem for individuals, companies, or the economy as a whole. Poor mental health costs UK companies £56 billion each year in lost productivity, time off and replacing staff who cannot work.
Mental health issues are one of the leading health reasons workers need to take time off. By the most conservative estimates, 12.7% of all sick days are thought to be due to mental illness, though other studies suggest that it might even be as high as 54%.
Mental illness isn’t always avoidable, and we’re not going to pretend that it is. Often, dealing with poor mental health means working with a specialist, just as you would for any other serious illness.
However, there are many important steps that companies and managers can take to protect their teams and support all of their workers.
We need to prioritise wellbeing in our workplaces to ensure they are healthy places to be. We also need to be aware of mental health to understand how we can support our staff to empower them to perform.
Here’s how we can take the first steps.
How to create a healthy workplace
We rightly pay attention to the physical safety of our workplaces. We expect a trained first-aider and the right kind of fire extinguishers. We should also consider the mental and emotional safety of our work culture. Let’s look at some of the most important things to include.
Make space for conversations about mental health
Many people who struggle with their mental health don’t feel comfortable discussing it in the workplace or notifying their manager. Up to 95% of people who need to take a day off from work with stress will give a different explanation to their manager.
This feeds into the stigma around mental health issues and masks the scale of the problem. If your staff feels safe enough to tell you what’s really going on, you have the opportunity to make changes.
Great managers lead by example. If you’ve struggled with mental health difficulties (or are currently experiencing them), it can feel vulnerable or unprofessional to talk about them with your staff.
Being honest is vulnerable, but it isn’t unprofessional. You are showing your staff that you understand and are creating an expectation that anyone talking about mental health issues will be treated with empathy and respect.
Actively promote a good work/life balance
For many workers, the days of the traditional 9 to 5 work are long gone. We have access to our work communications, and often the work itself, from wherever we are. We can answer emails from the beach or finish off a report on the train.
We can do this, but are we sure that we should?
If we’re honest, we all know that we shouldn’t. We need to have times when we’re not thinking about work or feeling guilty for not checking on “one last thing.” If we don’t take the opportunity to switch off sometimes, we’re prone to burnout.
Team members often blur the work/life boundary themselves without any requirement or expectation from managers. This doesn’t let us off the hook, though. It’s our job to make sure that employees take the time they need to switch off.
Managers should model good work/life balance by not replying to messages outside of working hours and completely disconnecting when taking leave.
Bring in the experts
Many companies are happy to pay lip service to employee wellbeing without actually making meaningful efforts. Show your team members that you’re willing to walk the walk by bringing in mental health experts and listening to what they have to say.
Experts in employee mental health and wellbeing will be able to facilitate great conversations and help you identify areas for improvement. Staff members who are uncomfortable talking to their managers might open up to an external consultant.
Of course, bringing in an expert doesn’t solve every problem. Sometimes, you want an in-house expert to turn to.
Get the best of both worlds with Paws in Work's mental health first aider course and mental health masterclasses. These courses use our experience and expertise to help train your staff to become mental health experts.
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