In the last few years we’ve had many reasons to be aware of the importance of mental health, both within and outside of the workplace. We’ve gone from full-time office-based jobs with an active social life, to being ensconced in our own homes for many more hours per day that we’re used to, and now we’re finding ourselves gradually returning to more hours outside the home – at the office and socially.
This can be a difficult adjustment to make, particular at a time of year when there’s less daylight, less sunlight, and more unpredictable cold and wet weather. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a well-documented challenge for many people and can affect many aspects of a person’s life.
A struggle with mental health can have many knock-on effects, including reduced energy, sleep, concentration, productivity, appetite, social interactions. As employers we find ourselves becoming more aware of the mental health of our employees, and how we can help (or inadvertently hinder).
According to mentalhealth.org.uk, more than 1 in 6 people will experience mental health struggles in the workplace, and according to MHFA England research, sick days as a result of poor mental health could amount to £56bn of lost revenue every year in the UK.
So, this World Mental Health Day, we want to help raise awareness of the things employers can do to have a positive effect on their employees’ mental health:
Check in regularly
A gentle, informal conversation on a regular basis could help to highlight any potential challenges and gives employees to opportunity to ask for help. It could be as simple as a once-a-week “So how are you doing?” as you wait for the kettle to boil!
Encourage social interactions
Having a workforce that is happy and comfortable together is priceless – and a good working relationship should have plenty of opportunity for social interaction over cups of tea, lunch breaks, or a team-bonding task.
Make sure everyone has access to a good working space
A productive working space makes for a productive employee, so make sure everyone has comfortable desks, chairs, lighting, warmth / cooling, technology (e.g a second screen or separate keyboard), and break areas away from the desk and screen.
Make sure everyone has access to proper breaks, food, and drink
We’re not suggesting you need to inspect your employees lunch bags or keep a tally of how many glasses of water they’ve drunk, but a quick wander around to make sure everyone has stepped away from their desk and that they have food to eat can make a big difference – particularly if you notice someone has a habit of “working through” lunch or eating at their desk.
According to UK Law:
- Workers have the right to one uninterrupted 20-minute rest break during their working day, if they work more than 6 hours a day. This could be a tea or lunch break.
- Workers have the right to 11 hours rest between working days, eg if they finish work at 8pm, they should not start work again until 7am the next day.
Have an open-door, no-judgement policy
It is essential that employees know they can find support if they need it – so make sure they are aware of who they can talk to, and that they can do so in complete confidence.
Consider flexible working
Although this is still a divisive topic, it is worth looking into the options of having a flexible working policy. This can come in the form of a set number of days working from home each week, the ability to start early-finish early / start late-finish late, or working from home when they have got something going on (it’s boiler-servicing season!).
Consider having an HR representative who is trained in MHFA
Mental Health First Aid courses are specifically designed to help people spot potential indicators of a mental health challenge in their colleagues, friends, and family, and give advice on how to approach the topic, how to respond, and some potentially life-saving resources.
Mental Health First Aid England hold courses around the UK, and have many online resources which you can access at https://mhfaengland.org/
Consider adopting the requirements of ISO 45003
ISO 45003 – Psychological health and safety at work is a standard based on ISO 45001 – Occupational health and safety which gives practical advice on managing psychological health in the workplace. This can build a positive workspace, enhance worker engagement, and reduce the number of sick days due to mental health.
BSI has lots of information regarding ISO 45003 as well as training.
Get up to Speed with Some Free Awareness Training
Not sure where to start? Here are some handy free resources!