Mental health at work
With one in six workers suffering from anxiety and stress, the workplace has become a battleground for mental health today. There is no doubt that in offices up and down the country employers have to face the reality of helping staff suffering from mental health problems. 18 million days were lost to mental health problems at a cost of £26 billion per year. These sobering statistics show it is not just a health problem that employers face, but a business one too.
In the last 40 years, we have grown used to taking care of our health and safety. We now take for granted hard hats, high-viz vests or watching for trailing cables. Workplaces now have first aiders to ensure that we get help quickly. By making simple changes we ensure our workplaces take care of staff. Yet, when health and safety legislation arrived in the 1970s and 1980s, senior managers had a key role to play in promoting the ethos throughout the company. The same simple changes can offer the transformation for mental health in the workplace.
What can be done about mental health
One of the simplest things a business can do is to start the conversation about mental health. By taking a stance, senior managers create policy and enable a culture that openly discusses mental health. Simplifying processes such as those for making reasonable adjustments to alter working conditions (to help employees with mental health issues) are simple and straightforward.
Often we expect organisations to change through the action of managers and policy. Yet as staff and colleagues there is much we can do to change. We take on responsibility for our own health and safety recognising we have a role to play. By talking about mental health, we all play our part and avoid the old taboos. When you notice a colleague is struggling it is okay to ask, “If they are ok?” Often if someone comes back to work after being off with anxiety or some other mental illness they feel alone, so having a friendly face that talks to them and re-connects them with the workplace makes all the difference. Ask yourself: If this person had a broken leg what would I have done? Well, why is stress any different?
The positive ways of dealing with mental health
Many companies have employee assistance programs (EAP). These will offer a telephone number that employees call in confidence and talk about their problem and the impact on their life. Where appropriate the EAP program may organise counselling for the employee that offers them time to explore ways of resolving the difficulties. EAPs have a good track record of helping people to stay in work rather than taking time off and are of benefit to both the employee and the business.
Companies that choose to put effort into creating a positive mental health workplace can reap the benefits for both employees and the company. By working together from the boardroom down to the shop floor, everyone benefits. By making sure that there is a positive environment that promotes good mental health. These changes need not cost a lot of money they start with a conversation and they save time money and lives.
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About Graeme Orr
Graeme is a counsellor and author living and working on the south side of Glasgow. In his practice, he sees a number of clients with emotional, anxiety and self-esteem that have relevance to us all. His articles are based on that experience and are offered as an opportunity to identify with, or to challenge you to make changes in your life.