Understanding how our mental health is affected within the work environment has become a key topic in recent years. Recognising the impact working practices and culture can have and in what way to make subtle changes to address them is a potential minefield for employers and managers.
Considering each person’s different personality and how individuals respond to problems is also a challenge. In some cases, it is not the workplace that causes the issues, but it could exacerbate them. Larger organisations are more likely to have HR departments to filter down information and implement programmes to help. But for smaller businesses not in possession of such resources, it might be harder to address. So, what can be done and where to start?
Motivating people to be aware of their own mental health is a great first step. Some may not recognise there is a problem and just feel tired and low. For many reasons, others feel they can’t be open about any struggles or simply don’t know how to voice their concerns and may believe they will be judged by their peer group or passed over for promotion.
Displaying posters on staff boards and signposting to organisations where people can research thoughts or feelings is a potential way of sharing with everyone rather than just one person who may appear singled out. Mentalhealth.org.uk contains useful information for employees and employers alike.
Encouraging a culture of openness and encouraging downtime activities can spur employees to relax and be able to share how they are feeling.
Research has shown exercise is a way to aid with mental health, so organising different pursuits to incorporate physical movement is a good way to begin. Arranging walking meetings to get staff out of the office setting is a more easy-going way of having one-to-ones.
For companies with employees working from home (WFH), it is hard to strike a balance between keeping people connected to their teammates while helping to establish and maintain boundaries to prevent burnout or harmful working practices.
Time to reconnect
The Disparity Begins at Home report by the Royal Society for Public Health revealed that 45% of office workers preferred WFH, while 67% said they felt disconnected from colleagues. In addition, 46% undertook less exercise and 56% found it harder to switch off, so their sleep and general well-being were also affected. Finally, 74% stated they would prefer hybrid working.
For some businesses, this is tricky as many have downsized their office space following the COVID pandemic and are currently unable to accommodate employees who wish to work full-time in the workplace as well as those who prefer a more flexible arrangement.
Solutions such as introducing team-building days at the office can help address feelings of isolation, plus inspire cross-learning and project collaboration. Providing hot desking facilities allows those who favour hybrid working to feel like there is a choice about where they work too.
A move to include mandatory mental health training in the workplace is underway. Resources are available from organisations like mhfaengland.org or mind.org.uk, which offer valuable information on this topic and can be utilised by businesses of any size.
Mental health is a big subject and needs much more understanding, but in the meantime, let’s all stay in touch with our colleagues and encourage a safe place to talk if required.
Frances Stephen is Director of Springfield Business Supplies