No matter which industry you work in, stress affects your people and your organisation. The UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that two-thirds of adults (68%) experienced heightened stress or anxiety during the pandemic (1) when working became a major source of anxiety (2) as people worried about working from home. (3).
Our working lives have continued to change since then, and now working from home has become normal. However, many of us still have to deal with high levels of uncertainty and new challenges. This has affected many people’s mental health and well-being.
- Why mental health in the workplace matters
- Recognising the signs of poor mental health
- 10 Ways to look after your mental health at work
- What employers can do
- Creating a workplace where everyone thrives
We at findcourses.co.uk have pulled together key findings from some of the latest research and reports to help you support mental health and well-being at your workplace.
Read on to find out why mental health in the workplace matters, how to recognise signs of mental health problems, what you can do to look after your mental health and what employers can do to support mental health at work.
Businesses and organisations thrive when people are at their best. As an employer, ensuring your people’s well-being is not just the right thing to do. It also makes good business sense.
On the other hand, there can be substantial costs for employers who fail to proactively address the mental health needs of their employees. Costs to employers can arise from absences, presenteeism (working when unwell and being less productive) and staff turnover. NHS Digital data as of December 2019 shows that approximately one third of fit notes issued are for diagnoses for mental health issues (4).
Deloitte, in the 2020 Mental health and employers report, puts the costs of poor mental health to UK employers at a staggering £42 bn to £45 bn each year (5). The highest annual costs of mental health per employee are in the finance, insurance and real estate industries (£3,300). On average, public sector costs per employee are slightly higher than private sector costs (£1,716 vs £1,652).
Mental health problems are very common. The 2014 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey finds that 1 in 6 people experienced a common mental health problem in the past week(6).
Mental health problems can have many different symptoms and signs. Bupa UK sets out some possible early signs of poor mental health(7):
- poor concentration
- being easily distracted
- worrying more
- finding it hard to make decisions
- feeling less interested in day-to-day activities
- low mood
- feeling overwhelmed by things
- tiredness and lack of energy
- sleeping more or less
- talking less and avoiding social activities
- talking more or talking very fast, jumping between topics and ideas
- finding it difficult to control your emotions
- drinking more
- irritability and short temper
According to the Mental Health Foundation, you should seek help from your GP if you have difficult feelings that are(8):
- stopping you from getting on with life
- having a big impact on the people you live or work with
- affecting your mood over several weeks
- causing you to have thoughts of suicide.
Work is a large part of our lives for many of us. Work can be good for our mental health and well-being when we are thriving and feeling fulfilled at work. When we have good mental health, we have the energy to make the most of our potential. However, there are times when we feel down, stressed or frightened.
The Mental Health Foundation notes that these feelings pass most of the time but they sometimes develop into mental health problems(8). This could impact our daily lives and prevent us from achieving our goals at work.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, we can all take steps to improve our mental health and build our resilience. The Foundation recommends 10 evidence-based ways to improve your mental health(8).
1. Talk about your feelings: Identify supportive colleagues or a manager you can talk to. Or make sure there’s someone you can discuss work pressures with – partners, friends and family.
2. Keep active: Regular exercise can boost your self-esteem and can help you concentrate, sleep, and look and feel better. If you work in an office it can make a huge difference to get out for a walk or do a class at lunchtime, or to build in exercise before or after work.
3. Eat well: A diet that is good for your physical health is also good for your mental health. Try and plan for mealtimes at work – bringing food from home or choosing healthy options when buying lunch.
4. Drink sensibly: Be careful with drinking at work functions. If you drink too much and end up behaving in a way you'd rather not, this will increase feelings of anxiety.
5. Keep in touch: Working in a supportive team is hugely important for our mental health at work. Maintain your friendships and family relationships even when work is intense – a work–life balance is important.
6. Ask for help: We all sometimes get tired or overwhelmed by how we feel or when things don’t go to plan. In the health service, your GP is the first port of call. Your employer may have a confidential employee assistance programme. You may also be able to access occupational health support.
7. Take a break: A change of scene or a change of pace is good for your mental health. Give yourself some ‘me time’. If your employer offers mental health days, take these and use them well. When you are on leave or at home, resist the temptation to check in with work.
8. Do something you’re good at: Enjoying yourself can help beat stress. Doing an activity you enjoy probably means you’re good at it, and achieving something boosts your self-esteem.
9. Accept who you are: It can be tempting to invest everything in building self-esteem around work success. The risk is that when mistakes are made, or when change is necessary, people may take it personally. Mindfulness practice can help us be more present and compassionate to ourselves and others.
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10. Care for others: Helping can make us feel needed and valued, and that boosts our self-esteem. Volunteering can be hugely rewarding – it helps us see the world from another angle and put our own problems into perspective. Many companies have volunteering opportunities.
During this COVID-19 pandemic, working from home or remotely can be very challenging and isolating. Read Ten Tips for Staying Focused When Working Remotely for tips that can help improve your well-being while working.
Employers are increasingly aware of the importance of mental health in the workplace. However, employers can do more to support their people. Business in the Community’s (BITC) 2019 Mental Health at Work report finds that 9% of those who disclosed a mental health problem were dismissed, demoted or disciplined. Additionally, less than half (44%) would feel comfortable talking to their line manager about their own mental health(9).
The BITC report identifies a training gap for line managers who want to do more to help their staff. A heartening 69% of managers say that supporting the wellbeing of their staff is a core competence. However, only 13% of managers have attended training that focused only on mental health.
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For employers willing to invest in mental health interventions, Deloitte delivers the welcome news that the average return on investment is £5 for every £1 spent(5). Mental health interventions with the highest returns tend to focus on organisation-wide culture change and awareness, and use technology or diagnostics to tailor support for those most in need.
The Mental Health at Work Commitment was launched in October 2019 to promote a nationwide commitment on improving mental health care in the workplace(10). The commitment sets out six mental health standards for employers:
1. Prioritise mental health in the workplace by developing and delivering a systematic programme of activity.
2. Proactively ensure work design and organisational culture drive positive mental health outcomes.
3. Promote an open culture around mental health.
4. Increase organisational confidence and capability.
5. Provide mental health tools and support.
6. Increase transparency and accountability through internal and external reporting.
Both employees and employers have important roles to play in supporting mental health in the workplace. As individuals, employees can learn to look after their own mental health. Meanwhile, employers can commit to creating workplaces that enhance positive mental health. If you would like to learn how to promote positive mental health outcomes in your workplace, search findcourses.co.uk to find the right workplace mental health training course for you.
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Mental Health in the Workplace Infographic
Take a look at findcourses.co.uk’s infographic below to learn more about the signs of poor mental health and the influences that are prevalent in the workplace.