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Making mental health part of your workplace agenda

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How can we ensure that mental health is being included within our workplace agenda and that everyone is being educated about the importance of mental health?

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According to the recent “Thriving at Work” report, it’s estimated poor mental health in the workplace is costing the UK economy between £1,205 and £1,560 per year per employee. This cost is for all employees, not just those who are experiencing a mental health problem.

Despite making major inroads as a society in recent years, talking openly about mental health remains difficult. This is especially true at work, with employees fearing opening-up might negatively impact their career.

With 1 in 4 people in the UK experiencing a mental health problem every year, it’s important employers encourage an open conversation and make mental health part of the workplace agenda.

Lift the stigma

There is strong evidence to show people suffering with emotional distress can find it difficult to disclose how they feel in a workplace setting.

Talking about mental ill health can play a major part in de-stigmatising it. Encouragingly, research from Deloitte indicates the UK is at the forefront of moving the conversation forward.

Nevertheless, for those committed to making mental wellbeing a priority, there is still more to be done. For example, 60 percent of UK employees report feeling lonely and isolated at work which can be detrimental to mental health.

By communicating to staff you care about their mental health, you’ll help lift the stigma associated with feelings of distress or loss of control.

One could argue there are as many different mental health problems as there are people in the world. Everyone has mental health needs, so conversations need to move from “1 in 4” to “4 in 4”.

Be sure to inform staff regularly about the avenues available for seeking help, be it designated mental health champions, the HR team or line managers, or charities with mental health helplines and local health services.

Promote mindfulness

Just as you can improve your physical health by working at it, you can improve your mental health too.

Mindfulness is the ancient practice of being in the moment to reduce stress and encourage clear thinking. By taking time-out to ‘be’, to notice or relish moments, people can experience improved wellbeing and productivity.

Incorporating mindfulness training into your wellbeing programme can improve efficiency, resilience and better communication. Nuffield Health delivers bespoke mindfulness workshops, including ‘lunch and learns’ and themed days, as well as training courses. Sessions can be delivered live, either face-to-face or via webinars to increase accessibility.

In the workplace environment, finding moments of quiet and introspection can be difficult. What can work well is providing a ‘safe space’ for employees to visit when they feel they need time out. It doesn’t have to be lavish to have a positive impact, just a designated quiet room in the office or even a small outdoor space.

Provide emotional literacy training

Everyone has mental health needs. What these needs are depends on what stage of life we are at, what is going on around us and our interpretations. For some, those needs are more complex than others.

At Nuffield Health we offer emotional literacy training to all our employees to help them recognise the signs of emotional distress in themselves and others. Employees are also taught different coping strategies to maintain good emotional health.

For example, the learning module identifies the signs of emotional distress like changes in appetite; disturbed sleep; avoidance behaviour; feelings of guilt or anxiety and negative thinking.

While the signs listed are not necessarily indications of mental distress and in isolation can be manageable, when they appear in clusters they should not be ignored.

Training should also focus on actionable next steps if an employee is personally experiencing mental ill health or has reason to believe a colleague is. On a personal level, this should include taking proactive lifestyle changes which help to maintain and restore emotional wellbeing such as increasing physical activity, eating well, sleeping more and disclosing feelings to a trusted friend, colleague or professional.

Make reasonable adjustments

Despite a business’s best intentions to improve the emotional wellbeing of its workforce, a percentage of employees will inevitably experience mental health difficulties.

Current legislation states employees experiencing a long-term mental health issue have protection under the Equality Act 2010. This means reasonable adjustments must be made to work practices.

These adjustments don’t need to be complicated. For some, commuting during peak hours can be a stressful experience, so offering flexible start and finish times can help employees chose the hours which work best for them. It can also help alleviate some of the pressure by promoting a better work/life balance.

Others can find working in an open-plan office environment difficult. Make sure employees are aware there are quieter and private spaces they can work from when they need to.

When it comes to acute mental health concerns, longer periods of absence can help employees recover properly before returning to work. It’s also important to work with wellbeing partners to put in place bespoke return to work plans to support employees, such as gradually increased hours and responsibilities, as well as regular reviews.

Creating a working environment which allows employees to flourish and achieve their full potential benefits everyone. Measurable benefits include improved productivity, a stronger competitive advantage, lower absenteeism and presenteeism, as well as higher staff morale which means fewer people leaving your organisation

The public agenda regarding mental health is on the move. People are starting to see mental health as important (and intrinsically linked to) physical health. As the agenda moves, so too must the actions of employers.

By Brendan Street, Professional Head of Emotional Wellbeing, Nuffield Health

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