Poor employee mental health and wellbeing is very likely to affect a company’s productivity, client satisfaction levels and finances, so it would be remiss of any business owner to overlook this area.
Furthermore, metal health was not previously mentioned in the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) First Aid advice, but meaningful changes were made at the end of November 2018. It now states that employers should consider ways to manage mental ill health and mental wellbeing in the workplace. I would hope any solutions you implement come from a humanistic standpoint, but stable and happy workforces create a successful businesses, and it’s always good practice to be a step ahead of legislation.
“Stress is the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them” – HSE
Naturally, there is expenditure associated with a wellbeing management programme and you may be unsure if the benefits will outweigh the investment, but there are many practical changes that can be made that aren’t cost or resource heavy. Look at the six main areas of work – demands, control, support, relationships, role, change – and focus on one at a time. Audit and assess the current or potential issues and don’t forget to involve your staff; something simple like a desk swap could eliminate tension between co-workers who don’t get on, and suddenly the whole office feels better about coming in each day.
Challenges your business may be facing due to poor employee mental health are wide ranging. Frequent short or long term absences from work can be a clear indication of a mental health problem, but errors in an individual’s work, accidents and incidents, lack of motivation and commitment, and conflicts between colleagues, clients or customers can easily be attributed to other things. A shortage of support in the workplace can result in a person being fired or leaving the company, and then you are faced with recruitment costs and possibly a disruption to your service.
Other areas that could reveal mental health and wellbeing concerns, include an increase in disciplinary procedures, a reduction in productivity and output – especially if longer hours are being worked – and lack of planning, control and effective decision making. Physical conditions are also telling, from headaches to high blood pressure, low infection resistance to lack of sleep. In July of last year, the Office for National Statistics stated that 13.4% of all sickness absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions, and Mentalhealth.org.uk cites that one in six people experience the symptoms of a mental health problem in any given week. Are you surprised?
Whether the issues are due to work demands or other pressures, it’s clear that more can be done to support employees. Businesses largely get back what they put in; facilitating better mental health and wellbeing through simple activities, such as these below, may affect the transformation your company needs.
Creating open workplace cultures means employees can feel safe to reach out for help
- Ensure professional information is available for staff to access confidentially – this could be a list of phone numbers and websites of organisations people can turn to.
- Buddy colleagues up and allow each pair to have a ten minute meeting each week so they can speak their mind and form a trusting relationship – often we feel better after talking.
- Can you better communicate that it’s ok to not be ok? Giving staff members permission to have mental health sick days could eradicate days of unproductivity or instances where people end up signed off for much longer periods.
- Employees could mark where they are on a stress scale of 1 to 10 each day – keeping this activity light-hearted, but also truthful will help encourage colleagues to support each other, while management can better understand when people are at their most stressed.
- A mental health forum allows people to share their experiences and advice with colleagues – this could be within the company’s ‘intranet’ or a monthly lunchtime meeting.
- A confidential feelings board, where people can write down issues, can help stress float away – while positive feelings may help someone else smile on a tough day.
- Executive teams can become elusive, even if that was never the intension – regular drop-in sessions can be used for staff to air gripes or offer ideas.
A healthier body means a healthier mind
- Having sports and exercise equipment available for people to borrow – a football, hand weights, skipping rope – should hopefully encourage a little lunchtime fun.
- If an employee loves dancing, jogging or circuits, see if they want to form a lunch club where people can exercise together and maybe learn new skills.
- Lunch clubs could also be run by a person that has any passion, such as a craft or a love for cooking – making friends is also good for the mind.
- Could you provide a piece of fruit to every staff member once a week, inviting staff to eat more healthily?
- Or could you provide healthy drinks and snacks one day a month to promote less sugar and caffeine intake – ask people to monitor how it affects their working mood.
- Teams or departments can organise healthy picnics, where everyone brings a plate to enjoy a shared lunch – this has the added benefit of helping to build relationships.
- Organise a regular walk to work or only use the stairs day so employees can give their body a little extra workout.
- Do staff have somewhere they can safely lock up push bikes? If not, you may be holding someone back from getting more exercise.
Small workplace changes with big differences
- A silent area, where people aren’t interrupted from their five minutes of time out can be very beneficial for those in intense roles.
- Make this area special and show you care for very little cost – a few MP3 players, a handheld games console, mandala colouring books and a yoga ball could help people de-stress.
- Have you ever asked office staff about seating plans? Where people work can affect productivity and cause stress, and this could be as simple as someone being cold because they sit next to a window.
- Offer a hot desk area for those who want a change of scenery or might need an hour away from ‘that colleague’.
- Standing desks that can be folded against a wall are a great way of giving people another option in a small space – some people may feel more focused or creative working standing up for a while and it’s good for the legs.
- Yoga balls give your core a great workout and improve posture, and work well in meeting rooms or break-out areas.
Management and training makes all the difference
- Does everyone have a lunch break and eat away from their workspace? Managers sometimes need to remind industrious staff members to stop work.
- Managers can also encourage a five minute break in a morning and afternoon to clear their mind.
- You need to know why people are working long hours – are they overloaded, or not productive? Either way, how can you help before burnout occurs?
- A sandwiching technique can be taught to individuals to help with workload management – alternating between tasks that you do and don’t like can improve self-esteem and reduce stress.
- Not everyone naturally knows how prioritise a work load – simple in-house training to sort daily tasks into ‘required’, ‘important’ and ‘desirable’ categories can stop someone feeling drowned in work.
- Ask for regular feedback on what employees feel their strengths are – in some cases a small amount of reorganisation could makes a huge difference.
- A formal mentor scheme can be effective for a mentee’s work development and the mentor’s self-esteem – also mentors gain from being valued by the mentee.
Ask the professionals to provide support
- For your next staff away day, do something radically different, like booking a professional to undertake mental and physical health workshops in the morning and a hockey coach to teach you the game in the afternoon.
- Invest in mental health risk-assessment questionnaires, undertaken and evaluated by a professional in this field, to determine areas your business can focus on.
- Ensure desk workers know how to do simple exercises, like rolling their shoulders, and individuals who stand may need to sit and stretch – a consultant can assess your workplace and provide advice.
- A mindfulness or meditation practitioner could undertake an after work session to teach techniques that help with stress and poor mental health.
Everyone experiences stressful days at work, and this can be as a result of their job, home life or other distressing circumstances, such as an ill friend. The Mental Health Organisation states that the top reasons people give for not telling work colleagues about mental health challenges are feelings of shame and fear of discrimination. As a business owner, you can make changes that help people feel happier, and in turn the company will be rewarded.
Neil Lancaster is a partner at Adams Moore Accountants and Business Advisers – based in Tamworth and serving clients throughout the UK, Adams Moore offers individuals and businesses a wide range of accountancy and business guidance services. Visit www.adamsmoore.com.