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Getting Mental Health Right in the Workplace

on Friday, 03 April 2020. Posted in People

Getting mental health in the workplace right can be a delicate balancing act for leaders. Protecting their own mental health, while looking after the same among their employees takes some doing, especially while maintaining profitability goals!

Getting Mental Health Right in the Workplace
Getting mental health in the workplace right can be a delicate balancing act for leaders. Protecting their own mental health, while looking after the same among their employees takes some doing, especially while maintaining profitability goals!

Mental ill health is the largest cause of lost working days in Great Britain. The Mental Health Foundation estimates a staggering 70 million days are lost each year due to mental health problems in the UK; costing employers £2.4 billion.

Bosses across the UK are burning the candle at both ends, putting both their well-being and business performance at risk. This inability to maintain a healthy work-life balance is not only negatively impacting their bottom line, it’s setting a poor example for junior management and putting their own health at risk. Geoff Lawrence, UK Managing Director at Vistage, believes, “overworked business leaders make poor decisions and set a bad example for their employees, which can adversely impact organisational culture.”

With those numbers in mind, can your business afford not to take mental health in the workplace seriously?  

The positive impact of boosting mental health throughout the business

Building a workplace where good mental health – of staff and leadership alike – is a priority lifts up morale, productivity, creativity, and ultimately the company’s bottom line.

Work plays a strong role in our mental health and wellbeing. Getting the balance right between good and bad pressure takes skilled leadership. You want a productive workforce, but you also want to create a culture where it is OK to admit when there’s a problem. 

Increased productivity is one of the major benefits of a workforce with good mental health. In fact, research company, Psychological Technologies, identified that if every employee in the country was 1% happier, it could add an extra £24 billion to the UK economy. It’s thought that happy employees have higher levels of productivity, produce higher sales, perform better in leadership positions, and earn higher performance ratings and higher pay. They also enjoy more job security and are less likely to take sick days or quit when they become burned out. 

Empowering your staff to understand and support others

One of the most practical ways of boosting mental health in the workplace is through training ‘mental health first aiders’, taught how to see the signs of mental distress. Mental health first aiders look out for staff exhibiting signs of mental distress and how to then offer help to someone who might be struggling.

Mental Health First Aid England reports that their program has been proven to build employee engagement, loyalty and productivity. In addition, if someone experiencing a mental illness issue has available a line manager who’s comfortable talking about mental health and knows what support to provide. They can also signpost towards available help, so the individual feels better supported and is more likely to be able to continue working successfully. They play a critical role in preventing a progression to more severe mental illness issues. 

Strategies and support systems for your staff

Incredibly, according to Vistage’s 2019 Confidence Index 18 per cent of CEOs have not taken a holiday – excluding Christmas – over the last 12-24 months. Great leadership should also mean creating plans and processes that promote good mental health in the workplace. The worst thing you can do is pay lip service to mental health, but not have the framework in place for staff to use when they need it.  If you’re genuinely committed to looking after the mental health of your staff, a box-ticking exercise will not do. It needs to become part of your company’s culture. As a business leader you can:   

  1. Train mental health first aiders
    Equipping your workforce with knowledge about what to do if they spot someone struggling and what resources they can signpost to by offering Mental Health First Aid workplace training can be a game-changer for your company.

  2. Consider offering tools such as meditation, mindfulness and yoga
    Staff may have preconceived ideas, but offering space to really engage with a professional alongside colleagues can help them review what they may think and help them be more open to their positive effects. 

  3. Bring in external speakers
    Learning from someone external from the business can be a catalyst to help employees open up.

  4. Do LOTS of signposting to places people can get help
    Often, we keep people at arm’s length because we feel we need to offer a solution. But that’s really not our role. We just need to protect ourselves and be informed about places we can send others to, to get help.
  1. Plan initiatives into company calendars in the long term (Not just on Mental Health Days!) Awareness days offer a great focal point, but to truly create a culture of openness and show employees that mental health is a priority, you need to schedule events and activities throughout the year.

Looking upwards and inwards: mental health at the top

Effective mental health practice extends throughout the business, and that includes the person in charge of setting the standard. Life at the top can be lonely. It’s definitely stressful. While business leaders may feel the need to put on a brave face, the high level of responsibility they take on day-to-day can be a risk to their mental health.

A study from private bank Aldermore, found that over 75% of company directors had been troubled by their mental health and which had affected their work. A further 60% of participants felt their business contributed to their problems.

Despite being among the most likely to suffer from poor mental health due to high-stress positions, business leaders may feel the need to keep this private due to worries about investors, board members or employees losing confidence in them. 

A stiff upper lip and determination to battle through the pain isn’t the answer. When leaders open up about their struggles and invest in the emotional and organisational health of the firms they helm, they embody both good self-care and good leadership. 

How to improve your own mental health when you have no free time

Leaders are so often worried about their staff, their business, and their board, they very often forget to worry about themselves. This means they need to have the positive habits in place to help reinforce their mental health. Even when things are going well, time spent practicing good behaviour is very well spent.

There are some simple ways to help reduce stress and anxiety as a leader: 

  1. Learn the power of breath
    Stop what you’re doing, close your eyes for a moment, and breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth slowly for a count of three. 
  1. Find yourself a cheerleader Everyone needs someone to download to and it’s really important to have conduits to let the stress out because, if we let it build inside ourselves, we will crack.
  1. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
    Around 60% of your body is made up of water. Not only does it nourish us, but it also flushes out toxins such as cortisol. So, ensure you hydrate yourself throughout the day. Coffee doesn't count: it’s a diuretic. 

  2. Ask for help
    The number one recommendation from both experts is to build in the plan that when you recognise you’re struggling with your mental health, you ask for help. It’s as simple as that. You’re not expected to be infallible as a leader.

It is an employer's responsibility to facilitate and provide a safe space for people to open up. As a leader the thought of providing a well-rounded programme of mental health support to employees can itself, ironically, be overwhelming. 

Ultimately, creating a culture of openness – a positive environment where discussing mental health is welcomed and engaged with across the whole year – is key. This starts with openness about your own mental health, and then accepting the importance to everyone – leaders and employees alike – of asking for help when struggling.

This article is courtesy of Vistage UK.

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