• GUEST BLOG: Ways to improve mental health within the workplace

    Mental health is a huge focus in the media currently and rightly so. According to figures nearly one in four adults in the UK will experience some form of mental health issues every single year with nearly one in six of us experiencing a common mental health problem on a weekly basis.

    With anxiety and depression, the biggest issues, this can have a huge effect on our working life. In total, approximately 70 million work days — 12.7% of all sick days –are lost on a yearly basis because of mental health problems. This equates to a cost in the region of £2.4 billion for companies. 

    However, there are many ways we can improve our mental health in the workplace, both as an employee and as an employer. Here, with Mental Health Awareness Week coming up on 14th-20th May, we look at some of the best methods available… 

    Remote working

    Remote working is a great way of removing stress that UK workers currently face. Since 2007, the daily commute has increased ten-fold and now stands at 58.4 minutes, with London leading the way as expected.

    This length of added time onto your working week can cause unnecessary stress, especially in a world where so many roles can be completed remotely. In fact, research has found that 33% of people whose commute takes longer than an hour each way had a higher chance of suffering from depression. Therefore, companies should look to incorporate remote working wherever possible. 

    Flexible working hours

    According to studies, ‘flexi-time’ can benefit our mental health. Giving employees the ability to work hours that fit around their lifestyle is a great way of improving mental health within the workplace, whilst also improving productivity. Traditionally, employees would crave the stereotypical nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday working week. However, with a great emphasis on finding the perfect work/life balance, this is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Mind states that giving employees greater control over the precise hours they work can be important to help those who are coping with mental illness. This is because it gives them the chance to avoid stressful situations, such as the busy commute, while also allowing them to easily attend medical appointments. 

    Furry friends at work

    It’s well documented that office pets can boost morale, especially dogs. Stroking a dog has been scientifically proven to lower stress levels, even if it’s not your own dog! This is due to it lowering your blood pressure and changing your psychological state into a more chilled and relaxed mode, which helps enhance your mood. Therefore, having a dog in your office can work towards reducing stress levels, thus boosting your mental health. 

    Dogs also work as a conversation starter, which also helps you build social connections in your workplace. A UK survey found that 43% of workers would appreciate an office pet, with over a third claiming it would make them more productive.   

    However, if you rent your office space, make sure that you are allowed pets in the building. It may be a case that you have to look into getting additional insurance if you expect to have an office pet. This could also be the case if you need to hire a dog walker for any walks during office hours, meaning the person you hire will have to have the correct Insurance for Dog Walkers!

    Decorations for the office

    Have you ever linked office decorations to our mental well-being? The answer if probably not. However, by being too close to other workers and being in a crowded office, an employee may find themselves becoming agitated and stressed.  

    Lighting is also important. Season affective disorder (SAD) can cause depression due to seasonal changes. It’s mainly an issue in the winter when there are less daylight hours, meaning that you should ensure your space offers plenty of natural light. 

    Elsewhere, there have been several studies that have noted the importance of having plants in your office. Adding greenery to your workplace has been found to reduce stress, while also increasing productivity by 15%. They also help to purify the air and make a workspace more attractive to job applicants. 

    If you’re regularly working remotely in your own ‘home office’ then consider wall murals to brighten up your space and increase productivity.

    Culture

    It goes without saying but having a positive culture around your office/workplace can have a huge impact on your mental health. No one wants to be in a strict regimental office where you’re afraid to speak up. Having a good culture in your work environment relies on trust, honesty and fairness from both employees and employers. After all, a happy and healthy workforce is a productive workforce. 

    It’s also important to give staff recognition when it’s deserved. This will help to boost the morale, leading to a better mental frame of mind. 

    Other ways of improving work place culture could be implementing a team development day, where employees get the chance to build relationships with colleagues but not within the office.

    Support system

    This is another factor which requires both employees and employers to respond. If an employee has a mental health issue, they must know who they can approach regarding the matter if they want to. Putting the shoe on the other foot, employers must keep an eye out for any noticeable changes in a person. While you should never make assumptions about someone’s mental health, some key signs could include how they interact with colleagues, if they’re appearing withdrawn from tasks they’ve previously enjoyed and if there are any changes in their eating habits. It’s important that you realise, however, that you don’t need to spotlight or assume anything – simply asking them how their day is going and offering to listen shows you are there.

    A company should make sure that they encourage people to talk as it is often a difficult matter to discuss. They should also develop an individual action plan to help the person. Of course, most companies won’t have qualified members of staff to give in-depth advice in the way a GP could, but it is possible to reassure people and point them in the right direction too. 

    Previously, businesses haven’t done enough to combat these issues. That’s where campaigns such as ‘It’s OK Not to Be OK’ have helped to get people to open up. 

    While mental health can still come with a stigma, it’s clear that we must be doing all that we can in the workplace to combat these illnesses. By following the above points, your workplace can feel confident that they are doing their bit to help lower the number of people suffering from the illness. Remember, don’t suffer in silence. If you have a mental health issue, reach out for support.

    There are many avenues you can go through, including contacting the Samaritans and Mind

    Sources

    https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/statistics-and-facts-about-mental-health/how-common-are-mental-health-problems/#.XFGcuPZ2uAg

    https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/our-work/mental-health-workplace

    https://www.independent.co.uk/happylist/improving-mental-health-in-the-workplace-a8040031.html

    https://www.regus.com/work-us/flexible-working-benefit-mental-health/

    https://www.officespacesoftware.com/blog/how-office-design-and-layout-can-impact-mental-health

    https://www.ciphr.com/advice/plants-in-the-office/

    https://www.mind.org.uk/media/550657/resource4.pdf

    http://www.itsokcampaign.co.uk/about-2/

    AUTHOR

    Stuart O'Brien

    All stories by: Stuart O'Brien

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