As part of Broster Buchanan’s efforts for Mental Health Awareness week, Holly Arrowsmith and Lucy Rider have hosted a series of Webinars looking at how we can improve the workplace to make it a more open, welcoming environment to both prevent and support mental health.
The first webinar in this series looked specifically at the workplace and what businesses, managers and colleagues can action to create a better work environment for everyone.
During the webinar four key themes were discussed…
When dealing with poor mental health, it can feel like pushing a piano up a hill, a real uphill battle, just to get through the smallest of tasks. Talking through issues and feelings can leave a person with a much lighter load than before. Sounds easy right? As simple as the solution sounds, in the workplace it can often feel like your feelings must be left at the door, and you can only be at 100%, 100% of the time.
As a manager, or even as a colleague, encouraging non-judgemental discussions is key to leading by example, to open the floor for employees and colleagues to talk about their mental health.
Having genuine conversations and sharing authentic stories, whether it’s about mental health or other personal topics, can create an open space where, if someone is struggling, they may feel more open to speak to someone about it. These conversations will also open up the floor to people from diverse backgrounds to get involved, opening people’s minds to different cultures and social groups.
Whilst the conversation is open, it’s important to choose your language carefully. Here is a great example. How many people have referred to themselves having OCD about something, or referred to someone incredibly tidy as having OCD. It’s a surprisingly common phrase, but if anyone around you actually has OCD, struggling or not, should that person decide to open up about this to someone, referring to a habit as their condition could leave them feeling that their struggle is discredited or something that won’t be taken seriously.
This example can be lead in more ways that just conversation – actions are also important. It’s important for management to set the example of what a healthy work day should look like, removing the dreaded ‘I can’t leave until my boss does’. Lead by actually taking your lunch break, and leaving at a good time, not only to promote your own mental health, but to encourage the workforce around you to follow your lead in creating a sustainable work balance.
Within the industry, we have found that in many cases people feel unable to talk to their manager about stress, including their ‘in-work’ stress. This can be largely attributed to company culture, and what is and is not ok to talk about at work. Shifting the culture to a more open environment is so important for letting people find a channel to discuss anything they are struggling with, particularly if it is the work itself causing the struggle.
A great way to start is to have regular 1-1 sessions with employees, not to check in on their work, but to check in on how they are managing their workload, how they feel about it, and if they need any assistance with managing it. Sessions like this create a safe place and an great outlet to privately discuss mental health within the workplace, particularly in instances where the work is the root cause of the issue.
Further to this, these sessions can be hosted as part of a bigger ‘Wellness Action Plan’. These plans work similarly to a portfolio review, but instead of reviewing the work itself, reviewing things that help and support mental health at work. It looks in depth at what employees can do to support each other. Even more importantly, it creates a plan to highlight warning signs a person may have if their mental health starts to decline, and any actions that particular person can take in this case.
What these plans highlight is how different everyone is, and how there is no singular plan of action when it comes to mental health. Whilst some people may become distant and unproductive when their mental health is struggling, others throw themselves into work, creating the appearance that they are fine.
The essence of the wellness plans is to understand each person’s triggers – indicators to help to prevent them from becoming overwhelmed with work-related stress, enabling appropriate conversations whilst a person is at a coping stage, preventing the situation to escalate.
When implementing these processes, you may want to get an overview of your business, and how your employees view the present culture they work in. Regular pulse surveys are a great way to get a general overview. The surveys can highlight any issues or areas that require attention. However they are not a substitute to sitting down 1-1 with people – a survey won’t catch any disengaged, or burnt-out employees, who’s voices still need to be heard.
Where and how we work has changed drastically over the last 2 years. More of us work from home whether in a fully-remote or hybrid role. This new working style blurs the lines between home and work – ensuring clear boundaries between these two worlds is even more important.
Taking a ‘work commute’, even when working from home, can greatly improve mental health. To take up to a half hour walk, being out in society and soaking up some well needed Vitamin-D, at the beginning and end of the day, can create a large enough break to create these essential boundaries.
Daylight can make a huge impact to a person’s day, so if you are working in a dark room, incorporating a daylight lamp can make a huge impact on your mental wellbeing.
But can what can businesses do to help their employees with these boundaries?
Businesses can provide specialist equipment that can be turned off at the end of the day and put away. A lot of companies provide employees with a Desktop PC to work from at home, that remains in a static position (for most in a common area). For that employee there is a constant reminder of work at home, even when they aren’t working. Provision of a laptop instead means this equipment can be put it away in a drawer or bag, essentially closing the work station at the end of the day.
Businesses can also look at how an employee’s equipment is programmed, ensuring that emails and phone call notifications are silenced outside of working hours.
Businesses still working in the office can create spaces to encourage healthy and social working behaviours. Open plan offices with plenty of breakout spaces encourage people to take breaks and socialise within the team, whilst providing access to Gym Memberships or Team Activities encourages staff to engage in endorphin promoting exercise. Providing these benefits can give employees an outlet to de-stress, so they can tackle their work at their best productivity levels.
It is important to note that when providing employees with great benefits, focus should be maintained on creating a culture/workload that enables employees to actually use and benefit from these benefits.
When businesses get serious about mental health at work, they find that they not only attract talent but retain more of their employees. Companies do this by creating their own Mental Health Plan, a Policy & Culture document outlining their commitment to promoting positive mental health.
The policies in this document give employees the tools to sustain positive mental health, such as a Mental Health leave allowance, allowing employees to take a number of paid days leave due to mental health, just like sick pay.
It’s important to let your employees know about these policies by ensuring they all have a copy, and promoting the policies throughout the business.
Promoting culture is the second stem to the policy, and how the policy is implemented throughout the business. There are so many policies that can be brought in to improve culture:
Businesses hire and pay for a counsellor to come into the business – employees can sign up for sessions.
Setting employees with a buddy or mentor, not to discuss work with but to discuss how they are coping at work and at home.
Having a focus group every half year to bring together new ideas about how the company culture can be improved, pitched directly to the board.
Mental Health First Aid Certification
Encouraging managers to become Mental Health First Aid Certified to help them approach employee and colleague mental health in the best way.
Mental Health Champion
A person assigned to support the people supporting other people. This would be a person that people are naturally drawn to and inclined to talk to.
Mental health is a huge topic, and most certainly something that cannot be “fixed” overnight. Positive Mental Health requires consistent focus, and likewise, so does a supportive company culture. The post-pandemic world has put mental health under a much sharper focus and the workplace must play a key role in managing this.
A truly genuine investment in the mental health and wellbeing of employees has created much stronger teams, resulting in staff loyalty and productivity. Remember people leave people, not companies.
However you decide to approach Mental Health, start small and take it step by step. Reading this, that’s the first step. What will your next step be?