• Mental Heath in the Workplace: Changing Attitudes

    A hard-nosed businessman struts into the heart of the city for work. He works long hours away from his family, his job is everything! Working lunches, high targets, oppressive corporate bosses and hard-won deals; none of this bothers him because he is bulletproof! No tough work environment can penetrate his hard exterior; he is successful therefore he is happy.

    This is a stereotype many of us will recognise.  This image is not only outdated, but it was always a work of fiction.  Because of such images, we have struggled to talk about mental health. They are part of the reason women have had to fight so hard for success and inclusion in the global workplace, and men have not been encouraged to express struggle or emotion. A work regime like the one described above may soon be a thing of the past, as companies are now recognising the importance of good mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.

    How Does the Workplace Affect Mental Health?
    Mental health issues brought on by the workplace are extremely common. The impact, of course, cannot solely be measured by its financial impact. However, this statistic illustrates the extent of the issue quite well: Research shows that last year (2017), 70 million work days were lost to poor mental health. The cost of this to employers in the UK was around £2.5 billion. If that is not an incentive for companies to invest in good mental health practices, we don’t know what is.

    “Work is at the very core of contemporary life for most people, providing financial security, personal identity, and an opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to community life.”  Source: Nations for Mental Health, 2015.

    How can our work life not affect our mental health?  It’s the place where we spend most of our time; it’s not a part of our life that is easy to ‘write off’ if it is working against our mental health.  When a workplace has no provision or recognition for mental health issues, the culture and atmosphere of the business can become toxic; entirely results driven, and not employee satisfaction driven.  The most successful companies in the mental health arena have one simple thing in common; they have specific resources and rules in place to deal with mental health. They have made it a priority. These provisions often include:

    • Means-Tested Flexibility. Some companies have started to offer flexible hours and responsibilities to those whose work-life balance requirements are more specific.  For example, single parents or carers. 
    • In-House Mental Health Services. Many companies have councillors and other mental health professionals on hand to deal with cases of poor mental health. 
    • Open Door Policy. This is an old idiom but often does not mean what it says. A genuine ‘open door policy’ invites employees to feel comfortable about coming to employers with problems.

    Even if, as an employee, you never find a use for these provisions, their presence reassures staff that their wellbeing is being considered. 

    The Shift in Attitude
    During the last few years, companies have awoken to the importance of prioritising mental health in their businesses. Studies, such as the ACAS Mental Health in the Workplace report show that good employee wellbeing boosts productivity and profit.  Happier people are nicer to each other, meaning a more positive workplace, and staff who tend to go the extra mile to make valuable contributions to their organisations.

    How to Implement Mental Health Provisions in Your Workplace
    Implementing these practices is not a small task, it is something that your business will have to commit to and spend significant time on.  The process has many intricacies, but when stripped back, it can be illustrated as a four-stage procedure:

    1. Analysing the workplace mental health needs: You will need to take a look at what issues your employees typically face. Are there any common problems? Do these problems stem directly from their work environment?
    1. Developing a policy: You will need to decide on a vision; what do you want your mental health stance to look like? What are your values? You will also need to define your objectives, what you want to achieve, in order to liaise with and convince your stakeholders.
    1. Strategies to implement policy: Once you know what you want to achieve you simply have to work out what to do in order to achieve it! Will there be changes in workplace rules? Will you invest in a social element for your workplace? Which mental health professionals should you get on board?
    1. Implementation and evaluation: This step will be constant. You should regularly be evaluating the effectiveness of what you have put into place and be open to change if needed.

    To learn more about these stages, and for any other advice on implementing mental health policies, take a look at this comprehensive document from the World Health Organisation: Mental Health Policies and Programmes in the Workplace.

    Thankfully, mental health is gradually becoming de-stigmatised and recognised as an essential part of staff welfare.

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