Mental Health in the Workplace – 7 Steps to Creating a Positive Working Environment
This week marks Mental Health Awareness Week (9th to 15th May). The theme for this year is ‘loneliness’. We’ve all had a tough couple of years, not just with the Covid pandemic but also with the current cost of living crisis putting additional pressure on people. The feeling of isolation that both of these challenges bring has been a key factor in the toll on mental health.
It can be hard to know where to start but our mental health can be improved by small changes. It does not have to be complicated or time-consuming.
So here are 7 top tips for any organisation to start creating a healthy and supportive working environment:
- Raise awareness. This is important both to end the stigma around mental health and also at a practical level, to ensure that people know the signs and symptoms to watch out for. This is particularly valuable for line managers, but it is important that all colleagues have a general level of awareness too, not only so that they can have a better understanding of their own mental health situation but also so that they can look out for each other.
- Support networks. No matter how well trained or receptive line managers are not everyone will feel able to speak freely to them so set up alternatives. This doesn’t necessarily have to be an EAP, there is plenty of free support that can be signposted, such as the NHS Every Mind Matters. Peer to peer support is also important so consider setting up some internal networks such as Mental Health First Aiders.
- Provide protected time. Make sure that people know it is okay not to be ‘on’ 24/7. Set limits on contact outside normal working hours and even set limits inside working hours, for example, encouraging people to take a lunch break and having a no email day/time or a no meeting day/time. Consider allowing flexibility around working hours so that people can match their working time to their personal circumstances, within reason.
- Talk, talk, talk. The stigma around mental health continues and one way to help break that is to keep talking. Ensure that managers are encouraged to speak to colleagues, whether it is in formal monthly one-to-ones or at the start of team meetings. Use your communications channels to encourage colleagues to share what works for them. Keep the chat positive and supportive, exploring any issues and what could be done to help.
- Make sure that there are good channels of communication both at individual level and at organisational level so that you have a clear temperature check on your people. Whether it be staff surveys or a staff forum (or both) give plenty of opportunity for employee voice and make sure that people see actions follow on from the listening.
- Shared purpose. Nothing makes people feel better than a sense that we are achieving something worthwhile, and beyond that, that we are contributing to something bigger than just ourselves. Talk to your people about how their role fits with the wider department and organisational objectives. Help people get directly involved in your core purpose wherever possible, maybe through job shadowing or volunteering days.
- A sense that we are developing and improving ourselves is a great boost to our mental wellbeing. Encourage your people to make the most of learning and development opportunities even if they are not all formal learning. Encourage learning communities so that likeminded people can share their journey together.
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