While many of us hit the gym, eat well and make an effort on our physical health every day - or at least give it good try! - very few of us take care of our mental health in the same way. Mental Health Awareness week has been created to raise awareness of this and to remind us to take care of ourselves and look out for others, be they a friend, family member or a colleague.
This month we are focusing on the impact that mental health has in the office. Some people thrive in busy environments and working to ambitious targets but sometimes when the workload gets too heavy or stressful situations arise at home or at work, this can cause even the seemingly happiest employees to feel stressed and anxious. A short period of stress may not be considered by law a disability, but prolonged stress can become more serious.
Employers and employees need to become more proactive in making sure that their workplaces are free from discrimination, where wellbeing is a priority and not treated as a problem, making the individual feel worse.
With this is mind, here are some simple, practical ways that we can look after our own – and our team’s – wellbeing at work:
Build a friendly team:
Team building is a key part of working together – if a team is made up of very different individuals who don’t gel then it will make it difficult for team members to feel that they can speak to anyone at work. This will make your team work better in the long run, which will lead to better productivity (a win-win for you!). Try to take your teams on team building exercises to build relationships regularly.
Wellness posters or notice boards:
If the walls in your office are a blank canvas, brighten them up with some wellness tips or posters to remind your employees about the importance of looking after themselves.
It could even be a simple whiteboard you change up every day with a new positive note or an idea to de-stress, such as: ‘have a chat with a friend’, ‘get some fresh air at lunchtime’, or listen to your favourite piece of music’. Allow staff to contribute their own ideas so that they feel part of your wellbeing movement.
Taking notice & say thank you:
We understand that the day at the office may seem busy but in order to build a happy workforce you also need to treat each employee as an individual and give them your time – they are not robots!
In the office world, it’s usually the good talkers that get noticed - but don’t undermine the qualities introverts bring to your team.
Try to take time out of your day to pay attention to your colleagues and really listen when someone tells you how they are. Take time to notice and compliment those around you – kind words can give a lift to those who are struggling.
Never underestimate the value of thanking a colleague. It’s easy to doubt our ability in work from time to time, so being made to feel appreciated can have a big impact on our well-being, self-esteem and our productivity.
Being open about mental health and #breakthestigma:
Did you know that one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, with this number just scratching the surface as many people choose not to open up about their struggles to their employee or a doctor.
The stigma and the pressures of work and creating a good work-life balance can force us to put on a mask and pretend everything’s ok that only worsens our difficulties.
Reasons that employees often do not come forward about their struggle is fear of undermining their credibility, losing their job and facing judgement by their colleagues. If you are worried about losing your job due to stress you should talk to your employer.
Remember first and foremost that you are not alone and you can get help and support to assist you.
If an employee has confided in you that they are suffering from mental health issues you should make sure you put aside time to discuss the issues further and target if the issues that are causing anxiety are home or work related.
Do not decrease workload without a discussion with the employee first to see if they feel this would help. Discuss potential changes so the staff member feels more comfortable about confiding in you. If they feel it is being dealt with behind their back, it can make them feel more anxious about their work.
This also goes for team members. Gossip is typical of many a workplace. But by putting in place a caring, supportive culture and educating your staff on how this works, gossiping will be discouraged.
If the staff member is signed off following a GP appointment, please be supportive – do not hound them with daily calls, visits and emails asking them when they are returning. Check on them no more than weekly but always speak to them and ask more about their general well-being instead of work – they don’t need any more pressure to be added and work to also be turned in to a place of anxiety.
Make every effort to foster a workplace culture where people can be open about their mental health without fearing judgement, and make sure support and encouragement is always on hand.