Work makes up a large part of our lives, as it is where we spend a lot of our time, where we establish friendships and where we acquire our income. The average British worker will spend 3515 full days at work during their lifetime, according to a 2018 study by the Association of Accounting Technician’s (AAT). Hence having a job that you enjoy can contribute to your overall wellbeing and mental health.
Our mental wellbeing can deteriorate because of various reasons, these can be our current situation, our environment, issues with our health or with our relationships. Work can also contribute to deterioration of mental wellbeing if the working environment is adverse or if you are going through a particularly stressful time at work, possibly due to a high workload or numerous deadlines.
In the UK, workers that are currently experiencing or have experienced mental health issues, contribute to a monetary value of all final goods and services produced of £225 billion per year. This is representative of 12.1 of the UK’s total GDP. This indicates how much value these individuals add to the economy and how important it is to shield them. This can be done by focusing on mental health at work, for individuals that are currently experiencing problems, for workers that are at risk of developing issues and for the whole workforce.
As aforementioned workplaces should be places where individuals feel fulfilled and where they can excel. It is the responsibility of everyone, employees, employers, and businesses to create environments in which people feel supported, understood, and are encouraged to grow and do well.
What does mental health mean?
Mental health describes our emotional and psychological wellbeing, it involves the way we think and feel as well as our capacity to cope with changes. We all have mental health, just like we have physical health. It may be easier for some to think of their physical health and how to contribute to that. This may include engaging in some form of movement, eating a varied diet, getting adequate sleep and seeking out the appropriate help when we feel ill.
Mental health is the same as physical health and when we experience good mental health, we have the energy to do the things we enjoy doing, have a sense of purpose in life and can cope with changes or obstacles that may occur in life.
Just like our physical health it does not remain constant and fluctuates depending on the situation and the various periods of your life.
What are mental health problems?
Everyone experiences periods where they feel low in mood, afraid or stressed. Most often these feelings tend to pass, but when they persist, they can develop into mental health problems. Mental health problems like depression and anxiety can influence our daily functioning.
There are several factors that can contribute to individuals being more prone to developing mental health issues. These are poverty, traumatic incidents in childhood, genetics, and enduring physical ailments. Nevertheless, anyone can experience mental health problems.
The latest studies suggest that one in six people in the UK experience symptoms of a mental health problem at any given week.
According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) (2021) the average occurrence of work-related stress, depression, or anxiety, averaged over the period of 2018/19 to 2020/2021, throughout all businesses was 1,780 instances per 100,000 workers.
In 2020/21 work-related stress, depression or anxiety made up for half of all work-related ill health.
Signs that you or a colleague may be experiencing mental health problems may be difficulty doing daily tasks, not engaging with others, and isolating yourself, feeling more tired than usual, making mistakes at work you wouldn’t normally make and finding it difficult to motivate yourself.
Other more noticeable signs may be obvious changes in affect, emotional outbursts, more frequent work absences and lack of self-care than may be apparent from an unkempt appearance.
What does the law say?
Individuals may fear that they may be judged or that it may have an impact on their job security if they speak to someone at work about their mental health. Mental health in the workplace in the UK is protected Under The Equality Act (2010), as individuals with mental health problems are shielded from harassment and discrimination and are eligible for reasonable adjustments to adapt their job. The intention of reasonable adjustments is to aid individuals with disability or mental health problems by removing any barriers to work.
Reasonable adjustments for mental health are usually practical, simple, and cost effective.
These may involve flexible hours or changes to working hours, changes in the workspace, working from home, provisions of light boxes or quiet rooms, phased return to work policies and extra support such as increased supervision, extra training, or buddy systems.
How can I look after my mental health at work?
Everyone can make changes at work to improve their mental health. The following evidence-based practices can provide you with some insight into what you may already be doing or what you would like to work towards.
Talking about your feelings can be difficult to do at work, especially if you have not done so in the past or if it is not customary practice. However, if there is a colleague that you feel comfortable with or a supervisor that always tries to check in with you, try talking to them. If you still do not feel able to talk to someone at work, then make sure you have someone outside of work that you can talk to.
Just like our physical health our mental health benefits from regular exercise, as it can help us focus, improves our sleep and our mood. If you are working in an office, try to go for a walk during your lunch break.
Ask for help if you are feeling overwhelmed. Talking to your supervisor or manager when you are having difficulty managing your workload. Contact HR if you require access to occupational health support or reach out to your GP if you have noticed that you have been experiencing uncharacteristic levels of distress.
Take breaks. This may involve a five-minute break from what you were doing, a half hour lunch break away from your desk, or a weekend away.
How to manage employees with mental health issues?
As aforementioned, businesses should create an environment that improves their employees’ mental health and supports and protects the employees that are experiencing mental health issues. Dialogue, feedback, communication, and trust are key factors.
Individuals with mental health issues may require appropriate adjustments to be able to work and it is best practice to keep a positive action plan and frequently monitor and review this.
Having an honest discussion and actively listening to understand the employee’s needs is vital for an effective action plan to be established.
Things to keep in mind during this time is to be positive, by focusing on what the employee can do instead of what they are unable to do and use a collaborative solution focused approach.
An action plan should include the employee’s symptoms, triggers and warning signs, the possible impact of their mental health issue on their work, what support they require from their supervisor or manager and positive for the employee to take.
Finally, managers should offer all employees a personal action plan as this provides a clear message that mental health is valued and promotes early disclosure.