Mental Health and Wellbeing at Work

Mental health awareness and wellbeing at work are more important now than ever. Ensuring employees have open dialogue with their employers around mental health issues is imperative. The past 2 years have thrown up a number of challenges for employees, none more so than the changing work environment. In this article, we discuss signs to look out for, stigmas around mental health issues, and how businesses can support their teams.

Signs of Poor Mental Health

As we are all individuals it can be hard to identify when we ourselves (or colleagues) display poor signs of mental health. We need to be aware of each other and also have an understanding of how we behave most of the time; what does a great day look like, what about a setback or a change to plans. Identifying a baseline of an individual’s mood and behaviour allows for a comparison to when they may be having a difficult time. Tracking the changes makes it easier to identify when an individual is starting to display signs of poor mental health.

There can be many signs and may not be what you would expect. Behaviours change, sometimes people can get more or less emotional, their physical appearance can change, how they interact socially can suddenly become much less or even much more of a focus.

Sometimes individuals can find it difficult to identify signs of poor mental health and need to talk about it with someone which can include – colleagues, partners, friends or even strangers who can offer impartial help such as a councillor or organisation like the Samaritans for example. However, if periods of poor mental health are constant, it may be an option to engage with a general practitioner, who is highly skilled in therapies to resolve this.

Strategies Individuals can use to Manage Mental Health / Stress

Individuals often have their own strategies to manage mental health, therefore, it is always good for them to consider what they have done in the past when they are having a difficult period. There are a wide variety of activities that stimulate improvement in mental health. A few of the most common ones include:

  • Exercise
  • Listening to music
  • Listening to podcasts
  • Organising activities / events with others
  • Talking
  • Writing things down

It is important to take small steps when taking on these activities, i.e. – there isn’t a need to go for a long run and feel burned out as a result. Short periods of these activities routinely are recommended and ideally building it into the daily routine.

Mental Health Stigma

Even with things changing in the workplace and attitudes and awareness of mental health improving it is still difficult for many. Mental health issues are not an illness or injury that others can physically see, it is still misunderstood and stigmatised, leading to individuals finding it difficult to open up about mental health challenges.

Encouraging opportunities or locations for informal conversation, like a water cooler, drinks station, lunchroom, allows space for colleagues to open up about their mental wellbeing and negate the potential of mental health stigma creeping in.

Leading by example through role models within the workplace that openly talk about their mental wellbeing, can also allow for stigma to be flushed out of the workplace.

Strategies Businesses can Develop to Promote Positive Mental Health

Businesses can promote positive mental health by ensuring that there are strategies in place and testing they work for all employees. For example, offering hybrid working approaches, to ensure all colleagues can maintain a working pattern that suits them, flexible working opportunities that encompass the work/life balance many colleagues are facing.

The strategy and initiatives need careful thought and planning to implement successfully and embed in the business culture with staff engagement and support. It is unfortunate that in many situations the rush to ‘do the right thing’ defeats the purpose.

Businesses should avoid being reactive when it comes to implementing mental health initiatives. Hasty decisions implemented quickly are followed by firefighting and constant changes. This ultimately leads to those in need of support being subjected to an additional stress – on top of their already packed ‘day-to-day’ schedules, it is not taken seriously by staff and can lead to any mental health developments being abandoned.

Mental health must not become a procedural tick box exercise. Engaging in meaningful conversations with colleagues whilst developing robust procedures will lead to more productive sessions that will promote positive mental wellbeing throughout the business.

Article based on LinkedIn Live interview with Scott Newby, Partner, Come Alive UK