[UK] How To Look After Employee Mental Health

February 6 was Time to Talk, a day to take part in and promote open conversations about mental health. Office Depot took the opportunity to question how prepared businesses are to discuss and support employee mental health and to explore positive steps for employers to take.

Supporting employees in the workplace has gone beyond considering health and safety. As people continue to grow their awareness and understanding of the impact of mental health problems following numerous reports, employers are now expected to provide mental health and wellbeing support.

The Mental Health Foundation found evidence to suggest that 12.7 per cent of all sickness absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health issues in the workplace. If employers took active steps to provide better mental health training and support to reduce stress levels, it could save UK businesses up to £8 billion per year.

It is therefore essential that companies assess what steps they can take towards offering an improved mental health support system. As well as staff being supported businesses will benefit from implementing a strategy, as fewer days would be lost due to work-related stress, depression and anxiety.

Why is mental health important?

Mental health continues to be a serious talking point when it comes to what employers should be offering staff in terms of support. Businesses need to ensure they have an adequate system in place to help look after the mental wellbeing of individuals working for the organisation.

Research undertaken in this area revealed that, in Britain, 602,000 workers reported suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety. This resulted in a staggering 12.8 million working days lost. This highlights the need for businesses to implement a strategy and adopt a business culture to tackle stress and poor mental health in the workplace.

Encouraging a more open dialogue about mental health in the workplace and having a culture where employees can find support when struggling, can help reduce the impact of mental health on the workplace. With one in seven employed people experiencing mental health issues, it is clear how essential workplace wellbeing support is.

How to improve mental health in the workplace

Given the shocking statistics associated with those suffering from poor mental health in the workplace, businesses need to take on the responsibility of supporting employees. To do this, there are some simple yet effective changes that can be made.

One way to improve wellbeing is to consider the office environment itself and see if the set-up is helpful or harmful to employees. A glaringly obvious issue is that office workers spend 75 per cent of their waking hours sitting down. This contributes towards poor mental health as sitting too much has been linked to a rise in depression and anxiety. Therefore, businesses should consider ways to reduce the time employees spend sat down.

Encouraging individuals to become more active while in work can be as simple as placing bins further away from desks to create a need to get up more. Alternatively, exploring different types of furniture can lead to staff sitting less, such as the implementation of sit-stand desks. These desks are designed to allow users to switch between sitting and standing when completing work to help improve blood flow.

Another easy solution when considering how to take better care of the wellbeing of colleagues is to ensure the correct hygienic practices are carried out. This is due to studies that have revealed that when suffering from a common cold or the flu, the physical sickness caused by the body’s response to these illnesses significantly overlaps with depressive symptoms.

Providing employees with anti-bacterial soap and facial tissues should be the norm for businesses but not all do this. These provisions reduce the chance for germs to spread and decrease the likelihood of colleagues becoming ill, which also lessens the number of staff suffering from symptoms of depression often linked to the common cold. Improving hygiene practices should result in employers seeing a reduction in days lost due to workplace stress and illnesses.

There are a number of changes employees need to make and perhaps the most important is a shift in company culture. So, then, what steps can companies take to implement these changes?

How to equip employees to nurture mental health

There are action plans that can be put in place that provide a network of support for members of staff so they know where to turn to if in need of someone to listen or talk to. This could involve running training sessions on how to notice signs a colleague is struggling with poor mental health or how to start a conversation with them about it.  It is also important to actively incorporate schemes that are designed to improve wellbeing in the workplace in general and encourage discussions surrounding the topic.

Many companies have specially trained members of staff, known as mental health first aiders, that have been on training courses to learn the best way to support fellow colleagues struggling with their mental health. Mental health first aiders should have the same business priority as traditional first aiders, especially as research suggests employee mental health issues have just as serious an impact on their ability to work productively as any physical health issues. 

It is possible to arrange for specialists to visit the business to carry out mental health training. Office Depot offers mental health in the workplace training to allow both management and employees to develop an understanding of common mental health conditions and give them the ability to support mental welfare within the organisation.

It is essential that organisations do not overlook the importance of workplace mental health. They must take responsibility for supporting positive mental health within the workplace by equipping managers and employees with skills needed to achieve operational wellbeing.

Similarly, employers should assess if the layout of the office and the hygienic practices they have in place require updating to further nurture the wellbeing of staff members, keeping businesses running as efficiently and economically as possible.