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How to understand and improve staff wellbeing

by Carly Stanforth, Office Manager
22nd May 2017 - 6 min read

Mental Health Awareness Week took place this month, making now a fitting time to discuss staff wellbeing and mental health in the workplace.

Fighting the stigma

As Office Manager part of my remit is to ensure staff at Further are happy and spot the signs that people are struggling. With some form of mental health affecting 1 in 4 people, it’s a subject that isn’t nearly talked about enough. More awareness needs to be raised and stigmas detached.

Stigma around mental health is still evident in modern culture. A shift has started to happen in the past few years; in a growing minority, mental health is no longer something to be ashamed of. Although this is amazingly positive, the stigma is still apparent in the majority.

The main place mental health stigma still exists is in the workplace. People are afraid to admit when they’re struggling for many reasons, but predominantly they fear looking weak or losing their job.

From admitting you have a problem and taking time off to returning to work – having a mental health problem can be an overwhelming journey for people to get through. It’s therefore essential that staff receive the reassurance they need to know that their colleagues aren’t judging them, and their struggles will not affect their roles.

Inspiring stories

Reading about other people who suffer from mental health problems, and how their organisations have supported them can really help. There are some inspiring posts online that are easy to access. Here are a few examples:

  • NoStigmas – collection of submitted member stories
  • The GuardianMental health in the workplace: ‘you’ve got to be blind not to take this seriously’ 
  • Heads UpKatie’s story
  • Time to Change (Matt)I worried what my colleagues would think about my mental health
  • Time to Change (Dan)Returning to work, I worried what people would think

Early intervention is key

It’s generally accepted that most people find it hard to ‘switch off’ after their working day. However, what many don’t realise is that what starts as difficulty relaxing can lead to something more serious – whether that be stress, anxiety, depression, or another mental health disorder –  if it’s not addressed.

Detaching yourself from work and relaxing really will benefit your health no end. Unfortunately, this doesn’t often happen, and the number of employees who have taken time off due to stress is sadly on the rise. The Office and National Statistics reports that work days lost due to stress, anxiety or depression in 2016 was 15.8 million – up from 11.8 million days in 2010. In 2014 alone, mental health problems cost the UK an estimated £70 billion.

Organisations perform better when their staff are healthy, motivated and focused. So, what can we be doing to combat mental health issues in the workplace?

Early intervention is essential – and it works. A report published in 2015 showed that absenteeism due to mental health conditions was reduced by 18% when prevention and intervention services were put in place.

Many safety legislations have come into place within the UK over the years; business leaders and their staff have worked to make the workplace a better and more collaborative environment. However, when it comes to mental health we haven’t made anywhere near as much progress.

It’s sad to think that if someone was bleeding at their desk, everyone would run over to help – but if someone is crying or having a panic attack, it’s unclear whether the same support would be offered. But why is this? It’s unlikely to be a case of people not caring. The problem is that people are unsure how to approach this sort of situation. Educating staff on mental wellbeing is therefore crucial.

How to spot the signs that something’s wrong

Spotting the signs that a colleague is struggling with stress, anxiety or depression is easier than you think. Keep an eye out for co-workers that show the following signs:

  • Being withdrawn
  • Fatigue
  • Change in appetite
  • Tearfulness
  • Change in demeanour eg someone that is usually involved in discussions becoming quieter and excluding themselves from office debates.

If you think that someone is affected by mental ill health, speak to that person or their manager. Don’t ignore it.

How to reduce stress in your workplace

Even better than early intervention is prevention – working in an environment that’s supportive, open, and promotes wellbeing. If you’re a manager, here are some ideas of what you can do in your workplace:

Encourage employees to take regular breaks

Make sure your employees have regular breaks away from their desks, get fresh air when they can, and take a lunch break. Short breaks can really help your staff to disconnect from their job for short time, allowing them time to themselves and the head space to work through any potential causes of stress.

Regular breaks aren’t always possible, for example, if there is a deadline to be met. But there’s always time for a walk around the office, or to go and make a cup of tea. Any break is better than no break.

Have an open-door policy

Offer ‘an open-door policy’ by letting your staff know they can talk about any issues and concerns, professional or personal, without the worry of reprieve.

One-to-ones or other regular opportunities for employees to talk can really help. However, it’s also important to communicate with your colleagues on a daily basis – ask people about their day and what they’re working on.

Further has created a culture that offers a strong work-life balance and support network, and promotes family values. The directors want employees to know that there’s always an unbiased and non-judgmental ear available to listen. The agency has frequent company updates, after which staff are invited to email or speak to directors with any feedback or concerns.

Offer staff healthcare or wellbeing benefits

Employees at Further also receive a healthcare cash plan. This is a fantastic benefit that means you can claim back on a range of physical and mental health treatments and preventative measures. For example, you can claim for a massage if you’re feeling slightly stressed, or you can access counselling sessions with a qualified practitioner if you need more in-depth support. There’s also a 24-hour helpline offering advice on a range of subjects from finance and family issues, to health and wellbeing.

There is ongoing work at Further to discover what else the agency can offer its staff to improve their wellbeing. Why not read our article: happy staff, happy workplace.

If you’re interested in working for Further, check out our Careers pages.

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