The media is rightfully putting a huge focus on our mental health in the UK. According to charity Mind, approximately one in four adults will experience a mental health issue each year. Staggeringly, one in six of us report experiencing a common mental health problem each week. 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:
Studies have found that a flexible working pattern can benefit our mental health. 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.
Similarly to flexible working, the concept of remote working can help remove stress that workers face. Since 2007, the average time for the daily commute in the UK has increased by 10 times. The average commute in Britain stands at 58.4 minutes, with London perhaps unsurprisingly taking the longest time.
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.
Office pets can boost morale. It’s known that dogs in particular are a powerful source of social support for humans. Petting a dog has been proven to lower your stress levels, whether it’s your dog or not. 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 dog walkers’ insurance!
While office decoration has often been linked to how productive your workforce is, have you ever thought about how it can benefit, or indeed hinder, our mental well-being? 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.
A work place’s culture can have a huge impact on our 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.
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.
"Studies have found that a flexible working pattern can benefit our mental health"
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