Three in five employees have experienced mental health issues in the past year because of work, according to a YouGov survey commissioned by the charity ‘Business in the Community’. So what steps can be taken to improve wellbeing at work?
Working out what triggers stress or poor mental health reactions for your employees can help you anticipate problems and think of ways to address them. Take some time to reflect on events and feelings that could be contributing to your employees’ poor wellbeing at work. You might be surprised to find out just how much you are coping with all at once.
The triggers may well be problems with certain tasks at work, one-off events like doing presentations, as well as regular issues such as attending interviews and appointments. Remember that not having enough work, activities or change in your life can also be as stressful as having too much to deal with.
Managing when and where your employees work can be helpful, since 2014, all employees have had the right to request flexible working for any reason, including switching shifts, working different hours and sometimes working from home.
Working from home, for example, can mean they skip the commute and instead spend that travelling time with their family, exercising or even getting up slightly later. For example, they could take their children to school, go for a run and then log in to their computer to work at the same time they would have arrived in the office, but feeling energised rather than stressed before their day has even begun.
Unlike in France where employees have the right to disconnect, in the UK many people feel they can’t switch off, which can be detrimental to their mental health.
In direct comparison, you could be forgiven for thinking there’s no such thing as work/life balance in the UK. You think about home when you’re at work and you think about work when you’re at home, while in truth these areas form different sides of the same shape.
This doesn’t mean that employees should feel permanently wired up for work. Scrolling through work emails or their work social media accounts 24/7 doesn’t give their brain a chance to rest, and can lead to a host of different problems.
When your employees leave work, ensure they do so both physically and mentally, make an effort to disconnect as they’re leaving the premises. This means ensuring they turning off work phone, laptop etc. In fact, much like a laptop, we all need to switch ourselves off and recharge our batteries.
It’s particularly vital not to have your work phone near your bed at night, as it interrupts your sleep.
If your employees’ workload is regularly spilling into their personal life, try speaking to them about it. See if you can jointly come up with a solution, such as agreeing a different approach or delegating work to other members of staff.
It can be difficult for people to open up about mental health concerns, but fortunately some companies are taking steps to encourage discussions about the topic, by running wellbeing at work initiatives, encouraging work/life balance and more often than not, signing their employees up for access to an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP).
It’s easy to spot someone coming into the office on crutches and arrange some help, but it takes more awareness to pick up on the often subtle signs of declining mental health. Often people aren’t even aware that they can access 24/7/365 support from their Employee Assistance Programme.
The EAP often includes access to structured support sessions, which can provide a safe space to talk through troubling issues. And even though most employers (through the EAP service) will only provide a fixed number of structured support sessions per year, if the employee and the therapist feel that they could benefit from more sessions the therapist can often assist them in accessing further support through a referral for longer term or open-ended counselling.
Increasingly we are noticing that GP’s will refer their patients back to their employer and recommend they ask whether they can access counselling via their workplace, this is because it is more likely that they will get seen quicker through the EAP than if they tried to access support through the NHS.
It’s not unusual for the EAP to have arranged for a client (employee) to access structured support sessions within 48 hours of them making contact with the service, so employees really don’t have to suffer in silence.
When you’re not at work, pack in plenty of healthy food, sleep and exercise. It’s well known that these can all boost our mental and physical health, but being outdoors can also help.
Even going for a 15-minute walk during the day can help clear your mind, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists. It might be difficult to take breaks at work when employees are stressed, but it can make them more productive.
Many people have demanding jobs and when you’re caught up in an exhausting cycle of relentless hours, it’s easy to be hard on yourself. Very often people don’t need their boss or colleagues to give them a hard time as they’re pretty good at doing it themselves.
If your employee’s are struggling at work, give them some space. This could mean taking a few days off, requesting flexible working or getting some support outside of work.
Once they’ve had some space, they can make better choices.