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Invest in People First: Supporting Mental Health and Well-being in the Workplace

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These are the facts that we simply can’t ignore: We all have mental health and we all have physical health.

‘Mental health? Nah, I don’t have that.’ A statement I have heard confidently spoken by an employee in response to ‘Let’s talk about how your mental health can affect you at work.’ No, I’m sorry but you do have mental health. We all do. And it’s time to make it OK to talk about mental health; particularly when it involves the workplace.

Stigma. Discrimination. Fear. – All powerful words that have been used to describe the reasons why people don’t want to discuss mental health in their workplace.

According to the Mental Health at Work Report, 3 in 4 employees disclosed experiencing symptoms of poor mental health. In reality, if everyone felt able to honestly disclose, I’m convinced that it would be around 4 out of 4. I mean how many of us have experienced poor physical health throughout our life and have felt able to openly talk about it and disclose it to our employer? Most likely, all of us.

Talking about mental health in the workplace remains challenging as we still live in a world that shouts about ‘safety’ but still whispers ‘health’. However, I would like to think that this is changing with businesses now adding a ‘well-being’ element to the concept of ‘health and safety’ to specifically address the subject that is mental health.

Employers have a duty of care for your health and safety at work, and that most certainly includes your mental health too. If you had cancer, a broken leg or back pain you would feel that you ‘deserved’ support, right? Well, your mental health deserves consideration and looking after too.

Managers who feel that they know very little about how to support their employees’ mental health are being intimidated and bamboozled with suggestions on how to ‘do it’ right. Well-being programmes. Mindfulness. Laughter workshops. Meditation. Relaxation. Stress management. Nutrition programmes…

And while all this is great, in principle I believe that we should strip it right back and create strong foundations to build upon. We need to provide mental health training and awareness for line managers in order to create supportive management. We need to engage line managers so that considering the mental health of employees is not just another ‘tick box’ exercise.

We don’t want or expect managers to be therapists. We just want to equip them with basic skills, knowledge and guidance on how to manage and lead people who may at some time or another be struggling with their mental health while at work, which could be anyone – at any time in their working life.

So if you’re a line manager how can you ‘do’ it right? Here are some tips that may help you to nurture a supportive working environment for mental health and well-being:

  • Make sure that the vision is supported by management at the top. Make the business case, because it makes business sense (research shows that FTSE 100 companies that prioritise employee engagement and well-being outperform the rest of the FTSE 100 by 10%).
  • Provide access to employee assistance programmes and occupational health. This can allow you to be proactive instead of reactive.
  • Make sure that your approach is reflected and communicated in your policies and procedures (e.g., supporting staff attendance policy, well-being policy, stress risk management, return to work procedures, etc).
  • Involve employees with decision-making around mental health and well-being and regularly communicate with them. This will help to ‘normalise’ and ‘de-stigmatise’ the subject.

But most of all we need to focus on being kinder to others and to ourselves in the workplace. Be kind, be human – be both. And that will be the greatest foundation of all to build upon.

You can contact the following organisations for more advice and resources regarding workplace mental health and well-being:

Louise Stuart is an Occupational Therapist working as a National Health and Work Adviser in Glasgow, Scotland specialising in mental health and well-being.

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