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How to Create a Workplace That Supports Mental Health

Being busy at work is often seen as a badge of honour but there’s a fine line between busyness and burnout — and organisations need to recognise the tipping point. 

A Mental Health Foundation survey found that more than 40% of employees are neglecting other aspects of their lives because of their jobs, including their mental health, while one in three feel unhappy or very unhappy about the time they devote to work. Some people feel this more acutely than others: a 2016 study by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) found that 18% of workplace absences were due to work-related stress, anxiety and depression.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to mental health — but research has shown that social connection is a key factor in wellbeing. That’s why Mental Health Ireland (MHI) is encouraging people to connect on World Mental Health Day, October 10th. This year’s theme is suicide prevention and MHI points out that connecting — with yourself, with others or with your community — can protect mental health in many ways.

How employers can look after their employees’ mental health

Employers have a duty of care to their staff, which means that they should take steps to support them through any wellbeing-related issue — given that up to one in five workplace absences is due to symptoms of mental illness, it’s in your organisation’s best interest. Although every person’s mental health journey is unique, here are five ways to forge a path for open conversations about mental health and wellness in the workplace. 

1. Encourage openness

Normalise conversations about mental health within the workplace and create a culture where people feel safe talking about their issues. MHI is calling on organisations to host Connect Cafes on World Mental Health Day, which is a great way to kickstart an awareness initiative and encourage people to come forward. But to ensure that employees feel supported all year round, it’s important to offer regular catch-ups, either during one-to-one lunches or team meetings. 

2. Promote healthy habits

Many employees are living such a fast-paced lifestyle that they don’t take the time to step back and realise how their lives outside of work are being affected. Job-related stress can take a toll on physical health, leading to erratic eating habits and not enough exercise. Encourage employees to step away from their desks by organising lunchtime activities such as mindfulness, yoga or walks in the neighbourhood. It’s also worth considering what elements of workplace practice, policy and culture may be damaging their work-life balance. 

3. Train managers

Help your managers to help your people. Provide training and development opportunities to ensure they are properly equipped to discuss mental health with employees and spot early signs of distress. Managers who regularly hold meetings to monitor work and wellbeing are perfectly positioned to recognise challenges and provide a positive and supportive first response. For instance, EY provides Mental Health First Aiders training to equip staff to identify and help colleagues who are mentally struggling. 

4. Set up a network

Organisations can look out for their employees’ wellbeing by setting up a network of mental health champions or coaches — a visible step in showing that the business is dedicated to taking action to protect everyone in the workplace. These champions can be dedicated individuals on staff or external counsellors who regularly come in for informal chats or to provide more detailed advice. American Express, for instance, offers counselling services and regularly invites external speakers to talk about their struggles with mental health as part of their Healthy Minds programme. 

5. Offer learning opportunities

Remember the thrill of learning something new for the first time? That sense of accomplishment can have a positive impact on mental wellbeing. When it comes to learning in the workplace, that could be anything from on-the-job training to offering a budget to empower employees to improve their skills.

Social stigma around mental health persists but increasing awareness and support in the workplace can help break the silence and start to build a more open and inclusive culture. Not only is looking after your employees’ wellbeing the right thing to do, but it also improves engagement and productivity, which will ultimately lead to reduced turnover and business growth.

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