7 Steps to Build a Mentally Healthy Workplace
So what is mental health?
There are as many definitions of mental health as there are mental health disorders. Fundamentally, mental health is the emotional resilience which allows us to enjoy life, create friendships, and be productive at our jobs. This emotional resilience also allows us to survive the disappointments and setbacks in life such as bereavements, family problems and other stressful situations. Protecting our mental health is as important as protecting our physical health. It is well known today that we can assist in protecting our emotional resilience by being involved in some sort of exercise or social activity, but as we have discussed earlier, roughly one in six of us are suffering from mental ill health and it should be noted that mental ill health can occur in any individual regardless of age, sex, race or social class.
Ok, we know that mental ill health is a lot more common than we thought, and that on a personal level it causes unhappiness and misery. We know that it costs business big time through absenteeism, high turnover of staff and presenteeism. We also know that the workplace can be both the problem and solution to this issue. How do you as an employer or manager help ensure that your employees have good mental health? The answer may lie in seven steps developed and proposed by the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Mental Health. The forum recognized that mental ill health was not only causing anguish, pain and sometimes death to workers but that it was also taking a toll on all types of business, small, medium and large. A panel of experts from across the world of academia, business and mental health was established and together they drafted these 7 steps.
Step One: Be aware of the workplace environment and how it can be adapted.
Knowledge is power. Understand the benefits of a mentally healthy work environment. Happier workforce equals higher motivation, creativity and productivity. Conversely understand the risk factors that can lead to mental ill health such as excessive workloads, time pressure and lack of engagement and non-inclusion in decision-making. Measures to reduce these risk factors include, promotion of health and safety, risk assessment and identification of situations which could lead to stress and illness, inclusion in decision making, greater autonomy, supporting employees in improving work-life balance, supporting employee career development and recognition of good work. Maybe the most important factor in reducing the risk of mental ill health is letting your employees know that help is there and that discrimination or ridicule will not be tolerated in any form.
Step 2: Learn from the motivations of organisational leaders and employees who’ve taken action
Why should you invest your time and resources into protecting the mental health of your employees? It’s not your problem if Mary at reception is a bit anxious or Gerry in accounts is stressed out. Well actually it is your problem, your employees are suffering and at a human level you should support them. Their work is also suffering and this is costing you. If either Mary or Gerry had physical ailments caused by work, you would notice them limping or wincing with pain, and you as a good boss or manager would encourage them to get treatment and assist them in making a full recovery.
It should be no different with mental health issues. And remember, you owe a legal duty of care to your employees with regard to their mental health. Companies who have taken action cite various reasons for implementing wellbeing initiatives and these include protecting the health and wellbeing of employees, doing the “right thing”, improving employee engagement and lastly, managing costs and liabilities.
Step 3: Don’t reinvent wheels, be aware of other companies who have taken action
There are numerous examples of companies who have taken action with regard to improving and protecting the mental health of their employees. Learn from them, learn why they decided to take action, how they took action, how they monitor their actions and what they have gained from the process. One example which highlights the benefits of taking action is EDF, a leading UK energy provider. A workplace audit showed that the company was losing 1.8 million per year because of employee mental ill health. The company, as part of a programme to promote wellbeing, provided training to 1000 managers to recognize early signs of psychological issues. This measure along with others allowed for a drastic improvement in productivity and lessened absenteeism rates, which ultimately saved the company money. Job satisfaction was surveyed amongst employees and satisfaction rates markedly improved. Here at EazySAFE, we offer an online stress management training course aimed specifically at managers.
Step 4: Understand the opportunities and needs of you and your colleagues
Your company is unique, you may produce the same kind of product or offer a similar service as your rival, but your company, people and culture are unique. You will therefore need to adopt unique policies and procedures that deal specifically with your company.
Step 5: Take practical steps to help your organization
When setting out on this initiative, you can avail of numerous tools which will help assist in developing your policies and procedures. Educational materials can be sourced either digitally or in hard copy formats from organizations such as ‘See Change’ and ‘Aware’. Training programmes in the area of mental health can be availed of such as stress in the workplace online courses. Diagnostic tools, which allow for diagnosis and monitoring can be downloaded and used. These diagnostic tools do not replace the need for professional medical input but serve as a tool to assist in gauging basic general health of employees.
Step 6: Find out where to go if you or a colleague needs help
Seeking help when you are confronted with a mental health issue can be extremely challenging. However, if your company has implemented policies and procedures that seek to improve the mental wellbeing of your employees, there should be a clear pathway for people to engage with and disclose difficulties at an early stage. You as an employer or manager are not expected to be expert in treating mental illness and in some cases referral may be necessary. The most positive outcome is for an employee to resolve their difficulties and to remain at work. This can be achieved by early intervention, and again, training and education are essential to identifying any early problems and resolving them. Employers and managers should have the skills to work in a sensitive and confidential manner with people after disclosure of mental health issues.
Step 7: Get Started!!!
Simple, get started. Good mental health allows people to fulfil their true potential and that is not only good for employees but it is also good for your bottom line. Common sense would dictate that happy employees make for happy business. Nobody is suggesting that workplaces should become holiday camps, after all a certain amount of stress is normal and productive. But where mental health impacts on people’s ability to perform, you not only have a moral and legal obligation to intervene, you have a business obligation to make changes.
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