Five ways to manage mental health in the work place
By Nicki Feutz
The importance of mental health in the workplace has become an increasingly discussed topic in recent years.
Providing an environment that promotes positive mental health has clear benefits for companies as a whole, including an increased level of productivity, reduced errors and a decrease in sick days. While the majority of workplaces want to do right by their employees and offer a supportive environment for mental health, it can be difficult to know what to do when a colleague becomes distressed.
There are a variety of reasons why the mental distress of a co-worker can go untreated, with many staff favouring to carry on with work as usual over speaking out and potentially upsetting the status quo. Companies with limited resources to support distressed employees, as well as places with limited knowledge, may exacerbate the mental health status of employees.
The first step to improving mental health in the workplace is to acknowledge that small responses to distress can be just as effective as larger interventions. Mental health may seem like a scary term, but small actions like encouraging healthy eating, taking breaks and holding open discussions in the workplace will act to fight against the associated stigma.
Here are five simple ways to better manage your, and your employees, mental health within the workplace:
Never underestimate the power of a quick break
It’s easy to get caught up in work and lose track of time, sometimes it can also be very tempting for staff to get that extra bit of work done by putting off their breaks. While it may seem like more work is getting done when employees skip breaks, it can be damaging in the long run and can ultimately result in burn out.
Break times are legally required in employment law, so make sure you, and your staff, are taking this time out for yourself throughout the day, consisting of small breaks every hour or so, and longer breaks of 30 minutes every 3 to 4 hours.
Creating a workplace culture that really values and encourages morning and afternoon tea breaks, can also be a great excuse to socialise, build team rapport and can even avoid extra emails appearing in their inbox when a quick catch up can be had instead. Breaks allow staff to head back to the task at hand refreshed (sometimes with extra caffeine, or cake, in their systems too!).
Be mindful of work-life balance
Maintaining a healthy work-life balance means making time for activities outside of work. Work-life balance will look different for everyone on your team. In spite of a healthy work-life balance being different between co-workers, it can still be very clear when this scale has been tipped out of balance for an employee. People who act lethargic, stressed and fall ill often as a result of working overtime are most likely suffering from not having a healthy balance between work and their personal lives. Look out for staff who arrive to work early and leave late. They may impress and get more work done, but doing this every day for a sustained period of time leads to exhaustion and a lowered quality of work in the long run.
Discuss mental health in the workplace to raise awareness and debunk stigmas
While the awareness around mental health and its importance in the work place has grown immensely in recent years, there is still an unfortunate stigma about sufferers, with certain professions being worse than others. The best way to debunk misleading ideas around mental health is to encourage discussions between co-workers that mental health is just as important as physical health.
The Mental Health Foundation has some great resources for workplaces, so gather up these resources and either having one-on-one chats or group discussions on the topic as it might help prevent sufferers from feeling isolated.
Stay hydrated and eat healthy throughout the day
Research has shown that physical health can have a large impact on mental health, with one constantly acting to influence the other. For example, people who go through long periods of time feeling stressed will have a lowered immune system, causing the body to be more susceptible to becoming sick. It goes without saying then, that skipping meals and not staying hydrated during work can result in a lowered state of mental health over time.
Similar to taking plenty of breaks, be sure to encourage people to drink water throughout the day, and maybe your workplace could provide nutritional foods that promote brain function such as fresh fruit and nuts in your staff room?
And, if you are getting up to top up your water glass, how about encouraging a workplace water culture, where you always bringing back an extra glass for a workmate!
Make it OK to ask for help
The most important way to fight against poor mental health in the workplace is to promote an environment where a cry for help will not go unheard. If you or someone you know are struggling, make sure to reach out to those around you and let them know what you are going through.
An employer can only do so much to prevent mental health if those who are suffering do not speak up. At the end of the day, your mental health and that of your employer is more valuable than any job out there, so make sure to take care of yourself and those around you so everyone can feel ok to speak up if they’re struggling.
Nicki lives in Hamilton and alongside her day job, she unleashes her creativity at night as a freelance writer. She studied aspects of mental health at University and has been involved in initiatives in the workplace on this. She loves to research and write about new topics to better inform herself, as well as others, especially about topics as important as health.