Promoting good mental health for all in the workplace

Published Wednesday, October 10, 2018 6:59 AM by Alex Arundale, Group HR Director, Advanced

Today is World Mental Health Day – a campaign that is very close to my heart. As the Mental Health Foundation rightly says, our mental health is just as important as our physical health.

Sadly, there is still a stigma attached to mental health problems which makes it incredibly difficult for people to open up and ask for help – both at home and in the workplace. This needs to change.

It’s no secret that the UK has in the past been criticised for its long hours work culture, for example, and the digital era is making it worse. Mobile devices, while a great asset to everyday working for many sectors, can become a hindrance, not allowing people to focus or ‘switch off’ at the end of the working day. With emails and updates so easily accessible, many employees feel an obligation to continue working outside of traditional work hours – tipping the much sought after work-life balance off the scales.

Of course, most of us experience stress and anxiety from time to time – myself included. A level of pressure is normal and can in fact be good for us sometimes, but consistent high pressure isn’t sustainable. Workplace stress can result in sick leave, high staff turnover and absenteeism, reducing productivity and increasing cost through recruitment and sick cover. It becomes a lose-lose situation for both employers and employees.

It’s therefore really important to recognise the signs as early as possible and get the help and support that’s needed to address the sources of mental health problems.

If you think are you close to burnout at work (or you think a colleague is), please don’t ignore the signs and get help. Here are some of the signs to watch out for:

  • Feeling exhausted – one of the earliest signs you are on the verge of a burnout is fatigue. Feeling tired is your body's way of telling you that you need to slow down. Stress may also make it harder for you to sleep.
  • Constant worry – if you constantly feel worried and struggle to concentrate, it’s a clear warning that something is wrong. Tension and worry can develop into anxiety and depression, and feeling down and stressed could also trigger mood swings, such as anger, irritability, tension and sadness directed at colleagues, friends, family and loved ones.
  • Forgetfulness – forgetfulness and memory loss are all signs that you are working too hard to keep your body going.
  • Illness – stress and anxiety can cause chest pains, headaches, nausea, heart palpitations, shortness of breath and even fainting. And, if you’re not eating or sleeping properly, you will be more susceptible to bugs and viruses because your immune system will be weakened.
  • Detachment – while burnout can cause anxiety, depression and mood swings, it can end up with you becoming completely withdrawn socially and detached from the things that matter to you such as your friends, family and job. This can lead to isolation and higher levels of depression, so it is very important that you take steps to manage those feelings.

One of these steps is to talk to someone you can trust. According to our recent survey into workplace stress, 30% of respondents said they would consider counselling support if they felt under pressure and 19% would seek medical help. So remember: stress (or whatever mental health problem you’re facing) is common and you are not alone. The Mental Health Foundation provides a list of invaluable resources here, which is a good place to start.

We recently asked Sir Cary Cooper, Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at the University of Manchester’s business school, for his advice on steps that leaders and their employees can take to achieve a better work-life balance:

  • Learn to recognise the signs of stress in the workplace – are you struggling to sleep, for example, or are you lacking in concentration and having trouble making decisions?
  • Find quirky stress rituals – people cope with high pressure in different ways so find a technique that works for you (and stick to it). This could be meditation, exercise or even singing!
  • Take a digital detox – people often take their smartphones with them all the time and don’t hesitate to work while on holiday or when with family at night. Switching off is critical and that means taking a proper break to recharge. Finish work on time and, on a regular basis, set aside time at home to turn off your mobile phone and laptop. Focus on the ‘now’ – not the past or the future.
  • Remember your wellbeing is important – it might not seem like it when under pressure, but there is much more to life than work. Always put your health first.
  • Take good advice – don’t suffer alone when you are under pressure. Delegate work and listen to the people that are close to you, from colleagues through to family.
  • Ask for feedback – listen to employees and empower them to change how they work can increase employee engagement and motivation. A happy workplace equals a successful business.
  • Encourage ‘away from desk’ time – activities such as yoga and running are not only great stress relievers but also help you to learn how to pace yourself at work.
  • Recite affirmations – every thought and emotion changes our neurochemicals that affect our mental, physical and spiritual health. When a stressful thought fires up, try to cancel it out with a positive one. When you're in a strained situation, saying a mantra or affirmation could help prevent you from entering panic mode and bring you back to balance.

I hope you will join me, and Advanced, in promoting the importance of good mental health. Why don’t you show your support for better mental health and start looking after your own wellbeing? Mind has some great advice for people living with a mental health problem plus suggestions on how employers can show their support – see here You can also show your support by donating to the Mental Health Foundation. Details on how to pledge are here.