According to mental health charity Mind, one in six workers in the UK are dealing with a mental health problem like depression, anxiety or stress at any given moment. One in three will be affected every year, and stats from the Health and Safety Executive show that mental ill health accounts for more than half of all sick days taken.
We've come a long way in recent years when it comes to talking more openly about mental health, but many people still feel unable to open up in the workplace. And, if one in six of your colleagues or employees are struggling, that inevitably has an impact on your business.
So, what can small business owners and entrepreneurs do to create an environment in which both their staff and their company can thrive? Building a more mentally healthy workplace doesn't have to be complicated or expensive, and has wide ranging benefits including: increased productivity, efficiency and innovation; increased profits and reduced business costs; improved staff morale and performance; reduced sickness absence, presenteeism and staff turnover; and enhanced employer reputation, as well as helping to honour your duty of care to your staff.
The most important step any business can make is to shift the workplace culture around conversations on mental health, from the top down. This means providing training for managers to understand the potential complexities of mental ill health, and creating a safe space where employees feel confident about opening up without fear of judgement or discrimination.
Key to this is having a clear company policy on support for employees with mental health problems, and positive, transparent channels of engagement and communication between staff and their line managers. Senior management should take the lead in ensuring that employees know their mental health is valued, and that they feel able to access the support available to them when necessary.
It's one thing to put a policy in place and tell employees they can ask for help if they need it, but a more proactive approach to mental wellbeing in the workplace might include having staff trained in Mental Health First Aid, organising lunch break seminars on mental health at work, or providing workplace mindfulness training.
Employees who overwork are more likely to suffer from chronic stress, fatigue and burnout, which ultimately reduce productivity and increase the likelihood of a high staff turnover for your business. Instead, encourage your employees to have a healthy work-life balance, including proper lunch breaks, normal office hours, regular annual leave, and – where possible – flexible and remote working arrangements.
Strong working relationships and office social activities help to promote a positive, supportive culture and sense of workplace wellbeing. You could also encourage staff to take part in extra curricular hobbies and activities, like a company football team or subsidised yoga classes, or even training courses to help them with personal development and career progression. These activities enable them to develop a rich and full life that doesn't revolve around being chained to their desk or checking their emails 24/7.
Workplace stress can be a significant cause of mental health problems, and employers have a responsibility to help mitigate these. Your staff spend a lot of time at work, so how they feel about their job inevitably has a significant impact on their mental wellbeing.
Typical triggers to look out for include staff working long hours without breaks, highly pressurised environments, an unmanageable workload, unrealistic expectations and deadlines, job insecurity, and conflict or miscommunication with other staff.
Providing training in stress management and conflict resolution can help staff develop their own techniques to manage some of these triggers, and managers should provide support and mentoring to ensure individual employees are appropriately equipped to manage their workloads.
Of course, not all mental health problems will be caused or triggered by problems at work, and having a fulfilling job can help boost your mental health and overall wellbeing. However, managers are still well placed to notice any changes in their staff's mood and behaviours, and to offer support at an early stage.
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