Mental health has been moved top of the agenda in recent years. On World Mental Health Day employers need to move mental health to the top of the discussion, understand and work out how to support their employees on a daily basis.
World Mental Health Day has been around since 1992, promoting advocacy, education and awareness against the social stigma of poor mental health in the workplace.
Businesses should use World Mental Health Day to open up conversations around mental health. Unlike other injuries and illnesses, mental health is not easily using a pill or medication. It takes acceptance and constant support from the people around us.
As most of us spend a third of our life in an office surrounded by our colleagues it takes a lot to breach the social stigma and talk about our mental health. This is why the workplace should use World Mental Health Day effectively to break down barriers and support employees in their struggles.
So, as a UK small business advice website we have spoken to businesses about how they support their employees mental health on World Mental Health Day and in the future.
Talk to someone
Alexandra Anders, EMEA talent director at Cornerstone OnDemand
“It’s important to not fall into the trap of thinking that managers can solve everything, they are not counsellors or psychologists. Organisations need to help managers recognise when it’s time to suggest someone more qualified. But simply taking the time to reach out and ask someone if they need to chat can go a long way.
“It’s also up to managers to help create an environment of transparency and open communication, where employees are comfortable opening up, feeling no shame or guilt for discussing and dealing with personal issues or fearing potential consequences. There is no point just introducing a bunch of HR initiatives, these attitudes of openness and acceptance need to be lived, ingrained in the company culture and driven by employees. Empathy must be recognised as a strength and employees need to be viewed holistically as a person, not just a productivity tool – there’s a reason human is the first word in HR.”
David Price, CEO and workplace wellbeing expert at Health Assured
“Emotional health and wellbeing in the workplace is just as vital as physical health. Everyone suffers at one time or another—we all feel down or stressed sometimes. Most of the time, this passes. But for 1 in 7 people, mental health issues can have a serious impact on their ability to do their job. 12% of all sickness absence is related to mental health—clearly, there’s space for improvement.
“Celebrating World Mental Health Day in your workplace is a good way to start. Simply by making these issues visible, you begin a process of dialogue. People who might be struggling—and remember, it’s statistically likely that someone in your workplace is struggling—will feel safer admitting that they need help.
“When someone admits—even just to themselves—that their mental health is suffering, and they need help, that’s the first step on the journey to recovery. That journey isn’t easy. But if you celebrate and promote this important day in your workplace—fundraising, donating, even just making sure people know it exists—then you’ll be helping to create a world with good mental health for all.”
Managing the Absence Data
Teresa Boughey, CEO of Jungle HR and founder of Inclusion 247
“World Mental Health Day is incredibly important for creating a sense of belonging in the workplace. No-one should feel ashamed or scared to voice when they require additional support. It can happen to anyone, at any time – mental health doesn’t discriminate! Employers should move away from ‘absence management’ and reframe their dialogue to wellbeing. Wellbeing services should be inclusive and signposted to all. It’s also important that companies review and understand the reason for employee absence. Is there an underlying problem with the culture? Many companies group absence data into categories such as holidays, sickness, planned ill health, and ‘other’ and It’s this ‘other’ category where companies really need conduct a deep dive. Here they are likely to find a whole host of reasons for people being unable to attend work. Its also here where companies also need to enquire around making necessary adjustments to support an employee to regain their health and return to work. Policies should not be about ‘absence management’ but should be about ‘employee wellbeing’.”
Adrian Lewis, director at Activ Absence
“Despite more awareness around mental health on World Mental Health Day, it seems that many people still don’t feel comfortable admitting to their boss or colleagues that they are suffering from mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and stress.
“Employers have a duty of care to look after both the mental and physical wellbeing of their staff, but with mental health they often don’t know where to start. One solution is to invest in absence management technology, which can help managers uncover the real reasons someone has been off sick.
“Absence management software enables managers to track short and long-term absences, and prompts return to work interviews. Managers can clearly see if someone has been taking a lot of time off or recurring patterns, such as someone regularly off on a Monday which may indicate stress or worry.
“This insight is invaluable and can enable line managers to sit down with someone and privately discuss what may be causing them to be absent from work frequently. If it appears someone is suffering from stress, anxiety or depression, then managers can step in and help by either directing them to relevant support services or addressing things like heavy workloads and other pressures, which could be contributing to the issue.
“Employers can also try to do more to create more openness around mental health. Sending an email on World Mental Health Day to your team, letting them know about the awareness day and encouraging them to ask a colleague how they are that day, is one simple action that could be done on 10th October.
“However it’s something that employers need to be doing more of throughout the year to really start to see a difference. Starting conversations around mental health and getting to the root causes of absenteeism is a good place to start to break down the stigma of mental health issues and encourage a more open culture.”
Dr Aleata Alstad-Calkins, director of Student Support Services at the University of Roehampton
“World Mental Health Day should be a reminder that we all need to take care of our mental health in the same way we do for our physical health. We should all watch out for signs of mental health deterioration such as stress, loss of motivation, inability to sleep and loss of appetite – to name a few. These can be a way for our bodies to tell us that we need to slow down, talk things through with someone or reach out for professional help.
“What’s more, one word that is necessary in everyone’s life is ‘self-care’, the ability to recognise and prioritise ones needs by indulging in soothing and rejuvenating activities. Self-care can take various forms depending on each individual. Some activities which are universally recognised are deep breathing or mindfulness sessions and physical activity such as going to the gym or taking a walk. Other ways can be reading a book or writing in a journal, engaging in a new activity or hobby, or going to the spa or pampering oneself.”
Lee Ali, MD, Expo Stars
“Working in events can be both physically and mentally demanding, so as a responsible employer, you need to look after the health and wellbeing of your employees. Encourage your team to eat well and drink lots of water, schedule in regular breaks and make sure they are taking time out to rest.
“To ensure you have an efficient and productive team, managers should strive to create a stress-free environment where everyone feels relaxed. I’m a big believer of practicing mindfulness and meditation to achieve this, and it’s something we encourage all of our core team to learn and develop, especially on World Mental Health Day.”
Brendan Street, professional head of emotional wellbeing, Nuffield Health
“Everyone has mental health needs. What these needs are depends on what stage of life we are at, what is going on around us and our interpretations. For some, those needs are more complex than others.
“At Nuffield Health we offer emotional literacy training to all our employees to help them recognise the signs of emotional distress in themselves and others. Employees are also taught different coping strategies to maintain good emotional health.
“For example, the learning module identifies the signs of emotional distress like changes in appetite; disturbed sleep; avoidance behaviour; feelings of guilt or anxiety and negative thinking.
“While the signs listed are not necessarily indications of mental distress and in isolation can be manageable, when they appear in clusters they should not be ignored.
“Training should also focus on actionable next steps if an employee is personally experiencing mental ill health or has reason to believe a colleague is. On a personal level, this should include taking proactive lifestyle changes which help to maintain and restore emotional wellbeing such as increasing physical activity, eating well, sleeping more and disclosing feelings to a trusted friend, colleague or professional.”
Chris Griffiths, founder and CEO of Ayoa
“With the ever-growing collaborative nature of our modern workspaces, being part of a strong and tight-knit team can prove to be the difference between productivity and success – or a distinct lack of motivation and drive. Naturally, some people like to keep their professional and personal lives separate. However, when we spend so much time with our colleagues every single week, nurturing rewarding friendships with our teammates actually improves our sense of well-being at work, as well as our productivity.
“Strong teamwork naturally fosters friendship between colleagues. Being able to nurture these friendships can do wonders for your motivation to achieve great things alongside your teammates. This helps to foster an environment of trust and respect, rather than of hostility which, in bad cases, can lead to a toxic working environment for your team.
“For managers, encouraging friendships to blossom amongst their teams and employees will not only help to promote a positive and optimistic office culture, but research has shown it can have long-term benefits on productivity. However, it’s not surprising that managers will want colleagues to maintain a balance between water cooler bonding and genuine team productivity. Being friends with your colleagues doesn’t have to mean such a black and white difference between working hard and slacking. In fact, those relaxing happy hour drinks after work, where you can kick back and switch off with your work friends, will actually help you get to know each other further. By strengthening your bonds, you can then tackle your team projects the next day with a shared sense of ambition, trust, and enjoyment.”
Anne-Marie Ayre, Principal, head of health & productivity at Buck
“World Mental Health Day is an important opportunity for employers to raise awareness among their workforce of the relationship between emotional, financial and physical health, all of which can influence an employee’s overall emotional wellbeing.
“It is also important to endorse the mental health support available through their current provision, whether this be mental health first aiders, or highlighting the range of services available through their company benefits, such as their EAP or the medical plan.
“Employers should also use the day to reaffirm their role as a confidential source of support and guidance for any member of staff. If an employee’s experience is negative, employers can use the feedback to review their current overall wellbeing strategy and then act to provide the tools and support to meet the diverse needs of their own workforce.”
Ed Hutt, serial CIO
“It was once said we spend a third of our time in bed (so buy a good bed); a third at home (so keep work time at home to a minimum); and a third at work. In supporting colleagues, where do we look for the source of a problem and where do we look for their safe place? It does not have to be that work is the root of all evil. It may be the source of relief. Pain is nature’s way of telling us to slow down and mental health problems require the same type of wound recovery support. We might use paid leave of absence to give a colleague the downtime they need to recover before gently supporting them back slowly into the workplace. But always remember to ‘immobilise the injured limb’ and immobilise their email account so they do have a genuine rest.”
Shaun Thomson, CEO of Sandler Training (UK)
“The first step in better mental health and lower stress levels on World Mental Health Day is to be aware of it and to understand what is and isn’t healthy. A little bit of stress can actually be beneficial – it goes back to the Fight of Fight reflex – it can help us progress work more quickly and take actions more efficiently. However, high levels of stress are not sustainable, and we must be aware when we show signs of the impact of on-going stress, such as irritability, poor sleeping patterns and an inability to “switch off.”
“People who are stressed over long periods of time are much more likely to make poor and irrational decisions. They can also lack energy and be prone to large mood swings. This makes them very difficult to work with. If these people are the leaders of the business they can have a very detrimental effect on their business as staff will be less likely to feel comfortable raising concerns with behaviour and decision-making.
“There are many ways business leaders can protect their mental health – from simple things like taking regular exercise during the working day (a quick walk around the office for five minutes every hour can work wonders) and having a short meditation session at lunchtime to rest (I find the Headspace app great for this).
“It’s also key to create a culture of openness at work. A company’s culture is only authentic when its led from the top. If the managers make it clear that its ok not to be ok, and that its encouraged to say what you think and feel, then everyone’s mental health will be better.
“Lastly, another tactic that works well is journaling, which is effectively diary writing. Start just by writing down three things you are grateful for. These can be small things – a lovely drive to work, a great cup of coffee or a kind word from a work colleague. It’s also important to write down things you are good at – this is a great way to change negative scripts we may have in our head by replacing them with these more positive attributes.”
The right people
Katrina Cliffe, KC Communications
“We’ve undertaken a number of things in the past 12 months to support our employees with their mental health.
“Firstly, starting with our recruitment process. We ensure that the individuals coming in to the business are the right fit for the team and the work we undertake.
“As part of their induction process we work with them to understand their resilience, their strengths and personality types so they have a better understanding of themselves and we can understand how to best manage and support them to flourish.
“Alongside this, we provide an internal peer mentoring programme which is undertaken on a monthly basis. This is a chance for the individual to discuss challenges and triumphs and get support from their peer to help them progress. more formally we operate a quarterly appraisal process which enables the individual to stay on track and for any concerns to be resolved quickly and efficiently. Alongside these activities we utilise the services of an external business coach who helps us to work on specific business, performance and individual development. At present all staff are having 121 sessions with this business coach.
“A good culture of wellbeing has been developed. Colleagues work out in the meeting room on a Monday lunchtime (beneficial when one of our AM’s husbands is a personal trainer).
“We provide Vitality health insurance which offers various rewards and perks for staff looking after their health and wellbeing. This includes access to physical health support but also a variety of mental health support too. Our partnership with our local chamber also provides a mental health line.
“Through all the activities above we can usually identify and support anyone through any challenges.
“A final comment though, businesses can only do so much. Employees need to be willing to engage and know when they need to step up themselves, but ensuring we provide them with the tools and support to help them along the way is crucial.”
Carlene Jackson is the CEO of Cloud9 Insight
“I’m very passionate about our employees’ happiness. As CEO, I take personal responsibility for my employees’ well-being. I wish to empower and make the teams contribution feel valued and celebrated. We proactively seek opportunities to have fun. For example, we recently participated in a VR mindfulness meditation session. We also have off-site quarterly team strategy planning trips, which included a trip to Amsterdam on a modern house boat.
“We find that food unites us. We have a fully working kitchen at work and the team are encouraged to eat healthy, cooked food at lunch. I get great satisfaction seeing the team teach each other about their culture and hidden culinary talents as they prepare and cook lunch together, rather than simply buy a sandwich from the local supermarket. I am sure the cooking standard and eating habits have improved, helped also by the slightly competitive spirit of our ‘good eats’, where the team are encouraged to bring in food on a theme eg Greek, or Thai to share for our ‘lunch and learns’.
“Our time is spent on the positive aspects of what we enjoy doing. For me, the journey is as important as the end destination, so having fun along the way is something we try to schedule in as it does not always happen. In a world of mental health and stress, its important to slow down and consider employees personal lives and how they measure personal success such as buying a property or having more time to see their ageing parents, or new born kids. If we can exist to make a difference beyond pure commercial gain then the world will be a better place.”
Martin Parish, a financial wellbeing expert at Aon
“Financial wellbeing is a key component of an individual’s overall wellbeing, which also includes physical, mental and social wellbeing. It goes beyond just having enough money in the bank – it includes good financial management and having the appropriate tools to facilitate financial decisions. It’s the peace of mind that comes with knowing there is enough money for both present and future financial commitments.
“As one of the core wellbeing pillars, employee financial wellbeing is a growing concern for businesses. Financial Conduct Authority figures show that 67% of employees are currently struggling financially3, which can have a detrimental impact on both their own health and business performance. It’s no wonder so many employers want to support their employees.”
Aon, a leading global professional services firm providing a broad range of risk, retirement and health solutions (NYSE: AON), has developed a guide: ‘How to support financial wellbeing: Seven secrets to success’, showing seven ways employers can support employee mental health with financial wellbeing.
Darren Upson, VP small business Europe, Soldo
“Today is World Mental Health Day, and many businesses will be holding wellbeing activities and launching new initiatives to support their employees. However, there’s one problem that businesses often overlook and which can have a series impact on mental health – financial wellbeing.
“Recent research from Soldo found that four in 10 people haven’t claimed reimbursement on a work item they purchased using their own money in the last 12 months, due to long and complicated expense processes. Many people live paycheck to paycheck, and often run out of money before payday. Being expected to subsidise your employer and pay for work expenses out of your own pocket, with no idea on how long it will take to get reimbursed, can be deeply troubling for many people.
“Ultimately, unhappy workers lead to an unhappy bottom line. If you want a healthy workforce that is dedicated to business success, it’s essential you implement a wellbeing policy which includes a commitment to employee financial wellbeing.
“Start by giving employees a card with a pre-paid limit. This gives them the financial means to do their job, without them having to reach into their own pocket. Not only will this streamline your financial processes, boost productivity and spur business growth, but you’ll have a happier and financially healthier workforce, too.”
James Herbert, CEO, Hastee
“Our latest instalment of the Workplace Wellbeing Study revealed only 21% of UK workers feel they are able to live and budget within their means. Workers responding to the survey said this impacts their health, sleep and relationships. The NHS has also highlighted the direct link between money and mental wellbeing. We’re living in an age where everything is on demand but pay is not. Workers still have to contend with rigid pay cycles, leaving them short of funds in the middle of the month which often gives them no other choice than to deplete their savings or borrow to get by. The Workplace Wellbeing Study found 82% of workers seek additional funds from sources including credit cards, overdrafts and pay day loans between pay days, a 4% rise from last year’s figure.
“The research found that workers expect employers to provide some form of financial relief and they value digital money management tools that can help them manage their finances better. More than half of workers say they would be more likely to stay with an employer who offers on demand access to earned pay between pay days. On demand access to earnings gives workers the option to access a portion of their access as and when they want or need to, meaning they’re not forced into using credit cards, overdrafts or worse, pay day loans, racking up debt just to get by. This isn’t a panacea for poor mental health as a whole, but it’s a free service for employers to implement which should be part of any wellbeing package that aims to protect the mental health of employees and gives them a fairer chance to experience a better quality of life between pay days.”
Dan Rogers, co-founder and chief marketing officer at Peakon
“Mental health is not something you leave at home; it has a direct effect on your working life. Our employees have the flexibility and respect to lead their own lives as they see fit, meaning they can stay healthy, spend more time with family and pursue their own passions. One of our values – Life First – supports this directly. Our employees know that they have the flexibility to deal with their life first, and work second. In high-pressure environments, it’s far too easy to lose sight of the human behind the worker. Employers should schedule regular catch-ups where they listen to the concerns, adjusting workloads as necessary. Simple steps can go a long way at developing a culture where all feel encouraged to signal stress and seek help, with the confidence that they will be respected and have their needs met. Of course, we can’t all become trained therapists, but it’s still important that each of us plays our part in ensuring our colleagues feel listened to and supported. Only then they can feel reassured that should they have any difficulties, practicable solutions do exist.”
David Brudö, CEO and co-founder of Remente
“To ensure that your employees feel safe and happy in the workplace, it is vitally important as an employer to implement measures aimed at preventing burnout. In my company, I make sure my staff have a favourable work/life balance by offering them flexibility and autonomy. We implement R.O.W.E, which stands for “Result Oriented Workplace Environment”. The idea is that as long as you achieve results you are free to manage your time in a way that works for you. Work-life balance is important and allowing employees to work from home, leave early to pick up their kids, or schedule their workouts during “traditional working hours” has had no negative effect on our performance.”
Bridie Gallagher, MD, Glass Digital
“I believe that encouraging a healthy work-life balance is the most important thing businesses can do for employee wellbeing. This doesn’t just mean having fair working hours, breaks and holiday entitlements in place, but also making sure that staff stick to them — the times written on the contract mean nothing if everyone feels obliged to stay late. This largely comes down to managers setting a good example and encouraging their team members to follow suit.
“Where possible, implement flexitime and remote working policies as well. Helping staff fit work around the likes of childcare commitments, gym sessions and social events can make such a huge difference to their mental health. Many appreciate the opportunity to miss a busy commute, too.”
Laura Giffard, founder of Perq Studio
“A particular feature of creative industries is that a large number of ‘hours put in’ doesn’t necessarily equate to quality work, often it’s the opposite as creativity can lag over time.
“When I started Perq Studio in 2017, I knew I needed to embed a work/life balance focus early on, before we grew. I’m pleased to say that the mandatory 4 day work week has been nothing short of a resounding success for us and I put that down to three things.
“Firstly, everyone takes the same day off and after much consideration and consultation with our clients, it was decided Tuesday suits the rhythms of our business and industry.
“Secondly, we operate a strict ‘no moonlighting’ agreement with the team. “Tuesplays” is for rest and relaxation, NOT working for other people. I want the team to return to fresh to work each Wednesday, ready to deliver game changing creative ideas for our clients, rather than exhausted from another gig.
“Finally, hiring the right people. To make a four day week work you need to have a hiring bullseye that recognises top performers and self-starters, as when hours are reduced, there’s less room to manoeuvre and every single member of the team needs to be on point.”
Kirsty Maxey, CEO of Teamspirit
“Like many other businesses, Teamspirit takes mental health in the workplace very seriously. We have many benefits in place to help people at times when they are dealing with stressful issues. For example, we offer flexible working conditions and support remote working where needed. Everyone has access to private healthcare, which includes counselling, and they can access it as soon as they need it. Our leadership team have all been trained on supporting their teams both in terms of their career, and their wellbeing.
“As a general ethos we encourage everyone to take breaks and offer access to weekly yoga and pilates classes which are provided for free at work. Recently we have changed the time of these classes to better accommodate everyone’s working days and schedules.
“On World Mental Health Day and we have set-up an Escape Room offering everyone a chance to clear their minds and de-stress, it’s a great example of what we do, and all of our Champions will be there to support and just listen.”
Mental Health First Aiders
Rebecca Upshall, talent manager at Ceuta Healthcare
“Embedding Mental Health First Aid training within any organisation or community encourages people to talk more freely about mental health, reducing stigma and creating a more positive culture. Training in MHFA was the first step to creating our strategy for Mental Health Awareness at Ceuta.
“We have a great relationship with Dorset Mind, who are Ceuta Healthcare’s charity of the year for the second year running. Not only do we support the fantastic work they do for our community in Dorset, but they in turn have trained 30 of our employees in mental health awareness.
“After we became trained in Mental Health First Aid, we realised how important it was to involve our employees, so they can help to support their colleagues across the business. Dorset Mind visited us during Self Care Week 2018 and delivered Mental Health Awareness Training to 15 directors and senior managers and 15 mental health champions.
“We are promoting continuous conversation about mental health, to ensure that it is at the forefront of our minds and for our employees to be reminded that as employers, we want to promote good mental health amongst our teams.”
Hire a wellness officer
Sean Ruane, customer success director at Clear Review
“I’ve battled with depression: in fact, I went through a phase a few years ago where I seriously considered taking my own life. When you’ve plumbed those depths and made it out again, you understand how important it is to shine a light on those feelings. If you sever connections and let those thoughts fester, you lock yourself into a downward spiral. We take wellness really seriously at Clear Review: we have a head of performance and wellbeing whose job it is to coach and counsel everyone in the business, from the board to the newest and most junior employee. Even locking these monthly meetings in is such a statement of intent: we want to give people the tools and the framework to see these problems coming, to open up about them as they happen, or to seek help elsewhere if they don’t feel they can talk about it here.”
Nikki Ellison, founder and director, at Loom
“Our employees’ happiness is so important that we’ve appointed one of our senior account managers, Vicky Hockley, as chief happiness officer. Vicky’s responsible for checking in with the team, making sure everyone has an opportunity to talk about anything that might be affecting their happiness – whether that’s feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or even anxious or depressed. She does this via anonymous surveys and one-on-one conversations (sometimes just casual walks and coffees) so that everyone feels able to reach out – in whatever way feels most comfortable for them.
“She’s also in charge of organising regular socials, runches (running lunches!) weekly Fika sessions and the option for the team to volunteer in local charities. This year she brought in a 4.5 day week in the summer to boost vitamin D and allow our employees to make the most of the summer!”
Nina Bailey, UK design manager, Formica Group
“Many of us are working in poorly designed spaces and this will be impacting on our stress levels. Noisy open plan offices can be a challenge for all especially those with mental health conditions.
“Good design while not a panacea can make people feel supported, less stressed and enable them to perform more effectively. Conversely bad layouts and design can amplify anxiety and other mental health conditions.
“Creating separate zones for quiet reflection and work can really help office workers as well as making sure daylight, greenery and clean air are available to all.
“The working environment can really impact on how employees feel and how productive they are. There’s a lot of hard data showing that making people happier, improving air quality and natural light drives up productivity.”
Brian Chen, CEO of ROOM
“One action that will have a longer-term impact is for firms to begin thinking about how the physical office space they occupy can affect the mental wellbeing of their employees. If you have a fully open plan office, you should begin to think about how to offer more private spaces. Everyone has days where they want to work alone, and not having the ability to do this could have an adverse effect on wellbeing.
“Equally, not everyone wants to work in a closed-off part of an office – being ‘hemmed in’ can also have adverse effects on employee wellbeing. The real learning here is that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to offices just isn’t going to support the mental wellbeing needs of all employees. A variety of workspace options, which cater to the varied preferences of diverse workforces, is needed if we’re going to begin broaching this issue.”
Break the stigma
Daniel Ure, Vizwear
“Mental health is in the spotlight more than ever on World Mental Health Day; yet it’s still surrounded by stigma in some male-dominated industry sectors such as construction and catering. As it can be a difficult thing for many of us to bring up — especially in an industry that doesn’t historically talk about it — it’s up to business owners and managers to take the appropriate steps to create a safe and supportive work environment for their employees.”
“At Vizwear we have made it our mission to create an environment where our team is supported and can raise any concerns in confidence. We also like to create a welcoming culture by encouraging staff to take part in team-building exercises and social events to promote an open and inclusive environment”
Know your rights to rest
Barry Stanton, partner at Boyes Turner
“Conformance with relevant health and safety and employment law, as well as the common law duty of care is of course a given. This includes ensuring as far as possible that employees don’t suffer physical or psychological injury, if they are to avoid personal injury and negligence claims. Employers need to encourage employees to discuss issues which concern them, and to protect them from workplace risks. In addition, they need to ensure that they have:-
- A clear job description
- Communication channels for employees to raise concerns
- Training and performance feedback
- Protection from working excessive hours, discrimination, bullying and harassment.
“The pressure over recent years to always be online can be a factor in sleep deprivation.
“In the long term, this could a lead to employee ‘burnout’ – which is perhaps why the World Health Organisation now classifies burnout as a workplace disease.
“Under the Working Time Regulations 1998, workers are entitled to rest breaks, including 20 minutes after six hours work, 11 hours off in any 24-hour period and basic statutory holidays of 28 days each year (which includes Bank Holidays). As well as legislation, ensuring adequate rest breaks would also fall within general employer health and safety obligations.
“Failure to manage such health and safety issues effectively could result in personal injury claims, resignations and constructive unfair dismissal claims. Employers should ensure that their people are taking their proper rest breaks or basic holiday entitlements and that there are records kept. The importance and need to keep records of actual hours of work was highlighted by a recent ECJ case. Other recommendations include adding training and awareness into manager training programmes around how to spot the signs of someone who is overworking, as well as how to manage such issues.
“We all have different working patterns. However, we need to consider the effect that this could have on those who receive emails, for example, at all hours of the day and night. Having evening or weekend work email “embargos” is one very effective way to ensure that one person is not impacted by another’s working pattern.”
Jackie Furey, director of workplace consultancy at Where Workplace Works
“Exercise within a working day has been proven to combat stress levels, increase productivity and help in the improvement of time management and reduce mental health issues. Furthermore, workers exercising in a working day found they went home feeling more satisfied at the end of the day, as they didn’t have to squeeze it into their own personal time, thus improving their work-life balance. Studies have also found that activity increases energy and happiness or wellbeing.
“Introducing a company gym membership – or implementing a gym in the office – will work wonders for all in the organisation. For a manager, making allowance for staff to plan in the time to re-energise will improve their performance, whether it is to hit the gym, read the paper or take a nap. Most importantly, leading by example will mean stress relief will also take place at a leadership level.”
Minding out for each other
“We are all pretty adept at spotting the signs of physical ailments in our work colleagues and friends, but what about their mental health… With World Mental Health Day, do you know what you should be looking out for? And how to respond appropriately if you have concerns?
“When I started writing this piece, I looked back to when I was just 20. Having left home in my mid-teens, I was ambitious, driven and determined. I’d got a dream job in a top advertising agency, travelling the world on an international client account. With no qualifications or degree, I’d got there because I was good and prepared to work very hard to counter the continual comparison with graduates several years older. I believed I had to work harder, longer, better to prove myself – often starting at 6.30am and leaving at 10pm. Without let up. I was also studying six subjects at night school 3 nights a week, taking client work with me to finish when I arrived home late, all incorporated into a demanding travel schedule.
“One day I was called into my boss’s office. I was stunned to be told I was being removed from my post temporarily and put on a month’s sick leave. Why?
“Although no-one at the office had notice any aberrant behaviour, my father had. Having spoken to flatmates and siblings, he was so concerned he rang the agency MD warning he would hold them accountable if I tipped over into what he believed was a looming nervous breakdown. Only then did they monitor, horrified at my slide into mental self-harm, even though, ostensibly, the company was benefitting. They hadn’t noticed, and nor had I.
“According to research by Personal Group, 39% of companies don’t offer any company mental health support. So what can you do to support your colleagues and keep a weather eye out for mental health issues?
“First and foremost, look out for changing behaviour. It may be radical and quick, or it may be a long slow change. If their diet has shifted from a healthy normal to poor or they’re eating nothing. If their spending seems out of control, their alcohol consumption has soared, they regularly complain of poor sleep or their relationships seem to be rocky. Perhaps they have become obsessed with hardcore exercise. Look out for any disturbances from their norm. One or all of these could be an external signal that all is not well.
“And if you do see something that worries you… the critical starting point is to do something, rather than ignoring it and doing nothing.
“In talking to Barny Guthrie, CEO of private mental healthcare providers Clinical Partners, I asked what that ‘something’ should be. He said it was vital that once you’ve noticed a colleague is struggling, don’t sweep it under the carpet. If you feel confident, talk to the individual. Ask them how they’re doing, if they’re all right. And don’t be satisfied with a brush-off. If you’re instinct tells you things aren’t ‘fine’, dig a bit deeper to see if you can find out more.
“We all respond very differently to stress and anxiety, so look out for mood swings, unusual responses to everyday occurrences. Yes of course we all have days where we just want to sit at the desk, our head down and get on with work, but if you notice a normally friendly colleague is regularly retreating into this behaviour – are they all right?
“If you feel uncomfortable raising it with the individual, talking about the issue to HR or your manager is vital. It isn’t about prying, but about caring. You’d want to be looked after in the same way. And ensure you also put your concerns in writing or an email. If documented, it makes it harder to ignore, reducing the risk of no action being taken.
“It may be that the company itself has never faced employee mental health issues before. Clinical Partners frequently get approached by organisations who know there is an issue but are uncertain what the next steps should be. Their advice is to bring in an expert – either an occupational or mental health professional. Experienced at balancing the employee’s trust and health needs, with the employer’s business requirements, as an objective third party, they look after both sides developing a plan to ensure the best outcome.
“So use World Mental Health Day to have a discussion around how you can best look out for each other’s mental health. What works for your team? Ask if an occupational/mental health expert could come in to do a talk. Instigate mental health awareness training. Introduce a small group ‘buddy’ system to regularly check in with each other. And hopefully you will never get to the point that I did, where the intervention came from a family member because my colleagues and company didn’t see anything amiss…”
Show you care
Vicki Field, HR director at London Doctors Clinic
“I hear the term ‘well-being’ used pretty much every day at the moment. If you break it down, it means ‘be well’. Wellness is a holistic view of someone’s health; it refers to all of the aspects which go towards someone feeling “well”; which obviously includes both physical and mental health. More recently, employers are beginning to recognise that a moral and legal duty of care for their employees includes a focus on mental health, as well as physical.
“A wellbeing strategy which includes a focus on all of the aspects which go towards someone feeling well is crucial. It should include nutrition, smoking, financial health, mental health including anxiety and stress management techniques and exercise. A range of activities or interventions can be put in place under each of these headings; whether it is reviewing the snacks on offer in the company vending machine, or encouraging walking at lunchtime, or high-lighting campaigns such as ‘Stop-tober’ to encourage people to give up smoking. All of these demonstrate that a company cares about it’s people, and that keeping people healthy and well has benefits for the people themselves, for the company and for society in general.
“Specifically, training Mental Health First Aiders or offering workshops on mental well-being can be a great start to encourage a holistic view of health and ensure that there is a regular dialogue about mental health. It also gives managers tips on how to spot signs of mental ill-health amongst team members. Giving access to an Occupational Health team, private GP or counselling network gives employees a confidential route to talk about their issues.”
Treat people how you want to be treated
Daniel Gray, founder of War Paint For Men
“At War Paint For Men, we believe employers need to have a full understanding of how much of an impact the workplace has on everyday life. We believe that people work for people and that staff rarely leave a bad brand, they leave a bad boss or a toxic workplace. Treating people how you want to be treated results in a happy workforce which then translates into a productive workforce. All of these things combined, we believe, result in a healthier mind and better work balance.”
Mark De Lisser, vocal coach and arranger
“Singing together might not seem like an obvious workplace initiative, but the workshops I have run within large and small organisations have brought great rewards. Singing releases endorphins which make you feel good, helps you breathe better and reduces stress. As well as mental health benefits, singing in the workplace improves concentration and confidence and is a brilliant way to bond as a team.”