Why it Pays to Improve Mental Health in the Workplace

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Mental health is a Director’s 2017 problem, amongst many others. The importance of positive mental health in the workplace cannot be understated, and there are several ways this should be taken into consideration. Here, Niklas Forser, the Co-Founder and Business Coach at Remente, discusses these considerations and points towards the idyllic goal.

Stress in the workplace

One of the largest problems within the workplace can often be stress, leading to employee dissatisfaction, tension in the office and in some cases, towards more serious mental health issues. In order to eliminate this and ensure employee satisfaction, it is important for CEOs and Directors to deal with the stress and its sources early on. Here are some of the things they should know about stress and that they should share with your employees.

First and foremost, stress is a normal and evolutionary reaction triggering the fight or flight instinct that has helped human survive. In the short term, stress is normal and can even be beneficial – the issue arises when the stress is prolonged, which is why breaks and rest are essential. You can also help employees to manage stress by encouraging them to adjust their mental state, whether by taking a short break, stepping away from their desk or by altering their perspective. Employers can also reduce employee stress by encouraging them to focus on the end goal and plan how they will get there. It is a lot easier to focus on where you want to go – stress is caused by a perceived lack of control, so encouraging an employee to take back control with careful planning and realistic goal setting can go a long way in reducing stress.

Manager training

Most companies will have a dedicated person trained in giving First Aid, but no one who is capable of recognising and helping with, symptoms of mental health conditions. It is worth making sure that you train one, or more people within the company to be able speak about and provide guidance, when it comes to mental health. There is a vast range of organisations to choose from which can provide training.

Managers can keep the lines of communication open, especially when properly trained – they can encourage employees to talk about their mental health and therefore, flag any issues as and when they arise, without them suddenly developing into a problem. Similarly, managers can spend time encouraging employees, praising them where necessary and guiding them through the more difficult elements of the job. Feeling encouraged and appreciated can go a long when in preventing employees from developing work stress and feelings of discouragement.

Not only should you have trained people amongst your staff to recognise mental health conditions, but you should also have a support system that will be implemented, should someone suffer from a mental illness. Make sure that those you trained know about the strategy and are ready to implement it, should they need to. The strategy could be as simple as providing the employee with flexible working hours, reducing their workload or distributing some of their responsibilities to others.

Signs of mental health distress

While it is always obvious when someone’s leg is broken by the fact that they are wearing a cast, it isn’t always clear that someone might be suffering from a mental health condition. Especially as so many of us tend to brush away negative thoughts and feelings within the workplace, with the aim of ‘keeping it together’ and ‘being professional’. It is important that both the managers supervising the employees, and the employees themselves are aware of common mental health symptoms and know when to seek help. Some early symptoms to look out for include:

– Increased absences from work

– Reduced performance and engagement. A previously sociable and high-performing employee might become more withdrawn, less motivated, irritable and prone to making small, uncharacteristic mistakes. While these might be signs of an employee who simply doesn’t enjoy their job, these could also signify a mental health issue, especially if the employee was previously keen and highly engaged.

– Appetite changes and rapid weight loss or weight gain

– Tearfulness at work

– Increased sensitivity

– Lapses in memory and difficult concentrating

Please note, these are only some of the possible signs and the fact that an employee displays one or more behaviour does not necessarily mean they are suffering from a mental health issue.

Making the office mental health friendly

As we spend such a large portion of our lives at the office, it is important that it is a nice environment, which supports mental health, as opposed to damages it. Some of the most basic things that you can do to ensure this, is to encourage a work-life balance amongst the employees. Encourage them to step away from their desk every so often, even if it is to just grab lunch in the communal area. You can also suggest standing (or even running) meetings, to encourage your employees to move around a bit more and disrupt the sedentary lifestyle that we are so used to.

In terms of decoration and the physical space, it is a good idea to make sure that the air in the office is fresh, as a study by Harvard University found that offices with cleaner air had higher levels of productivity and better performance. You should also encourage the employees to personalise their desks, without making them over-cluttered. A desk with one or two personal items can make employees feel more comfortable, while a lot of clutter will cause stress and increase distraction.

Lastly, you should make sure that your employees feel like part of a team. Team building activities can help create a positive work environment, improve productivity and increase positive social interactions amongst employees. You can do things like make sure that you eat lunch together, away from your desks,, or that you participate in a team away day.

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