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Boosting mental wellbeing

Our mental wellbeing is dynamic. It can change from moment to moment, day to day, month to month or year to year.”

We shared that quote from the mental health charity Mind when we looked at ways of building mental resilience as part of World Mental Health Day 2018. This year’s event which takes place on 10th October takes suicide prevention as its theme. As in previous campaigns one of the core approaches is to open up discussion surrounding mental well-being as a means to provide support and also to reduce the stigma which still surrounds mental ill-health.

Sadly, a report by Slater and Gordon has revealed that 55% of employees who took time off last year as a result of their mental well-being invented a physical illness to explain their absence. This starkly illustrates the work which still has to be done in order that mental ill-health is seen on a par with physical ill-health.

Businesses which are themselves health practices should not see themselves as being immune from the challenges posed by mental well-being. Nor should any business view mental health as being a challenge brought into the business from outside. On the contrary, workplace stress has been identified as being the cause of relationship and sleep problems for many. So much so that the Slater and Gordon report revealed that in the last five years a quarter of people surveyed admitted to leaving at least one job due to pressure and the negative impact it was having on their mental health. In addition, one in six say they are still in a role which causes them burnout, stress and anxiety.

The importance of mental well-being in the workplace can perhaps be illustrated by the fact that it is the subject of an ongoing campaign by the Institute of Directors (IoD). A recent report on their website highlighted some startling statistics including the fact that one in six adults experience mental ill-health in any one working week, resulting in an ongoing cost of £35 billion per year in the UK. The report highlights the importance of mental health awareness starting at the top of businesses and being cascaded down by leaders through the culture of the organisation. It also suggests that businesses may want to consider training a member of staff to be a mental health first aider.

This closely ties in with the government’s 2017 report on mental health in the workplace which recommended adopting six mental health core standards, namely:

  • Make a mental health at work plan and tell workers about it.
  • Make sure that workers know about mental health.
  • When workers are finding things hard, give them the chance to talk about mental health and the help and support they can get.
  • Make sure workers have control and a sense of purpose about their work. Working should make people feel good.
  • Make sure that managers and supervisors manage people properly.
  • Make regular checks on workers’ mental health and their wellbeing.

Supporting health in the workplace

In our last article we examined the challenges facing the baby boomer generation and the way in which employers can help them to remain in the workplace. Now we are moving on to look at some of the ways in which employers can help all employees to stay on top of their game.

Our article has been prompted by a workplace mental health review which has recently been launched by Prime Minister Theresa May. The review which is to be led by Lord Dennis Stevenson, formerly chair of HBOS, and Paul Farmer who is the Chief Executive of Mind aims to promote best practice concerning mental health issues within the workplace, reduce discrimination, and work with industry to remove the stigma surrounding mental health issues.

The workplace review is part of a wider package of measures which also aims to improve mental health provision for young people within schools and colleges as well as improving the way in which mental health issues are approached within the NHS. Facing up to mental health problems within the workforce is vital if we are to remove stigma and help people to receive the treatment and support which they need. As the Prime Minister commented “mental well-being doesn’t just improve the health of employees, it improves their motivation, reduces their absence and drives better productivity too.”

But mental health is only one area in which employers can better support employees. Health and safety regulations may require employers to ensure the safe provision of equipment, including desks and chairs, but there are plenty of other ways in which employers can help employees to stay fit and healthy.

For example, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy has recently highlighted a January fitness programme launched by physios at the South Warwickshire NHS trust. Following on from an earlier initiative in which they produced a thirty minute workout which staff working at the trust could use to boost their fitness over the period of one month, the new Workout at Work programme aims to help staff to stay fit through the busy winter period.

Of course the South Warwickshire NHS trust has the benefit of physiotherapists on the premises but other organisations could follow their lead by organising a staff fitness program in conjunction with a local physiotherapist or fitness trainer. Other options could include the provision of a chiropractor for those staff who are on their feet for lengthy periods of time or even simply providing staff with access to a health nutritionist who could provide guidance on the link between nutrition and physical and mental well-being.

Finally, never underestimate the importance of basic hygiene practices such as sanitising shared equipment and deep cleaning restrooms and kitchens on a regular basis. This, taken alongside the policy of ensuring that staff who are sick stay at home to avoid infecting others can make a measurable difference to the overall health of the workforce.

It’s only January and already we’ve had reports of health resources being stretched well beyond capacity with the government looking at removing the four hour A&E treatment limit for non-urgent cases. Supporting health in the workplace is one way in which employers can play their part in helping to improve the overall health of the nation and reduce the strain on the health system.

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