Mental Health in the Workplace
By Kirsty Campbell, Administrator
It was World Mental Health Day recently which made me think about the Employers Symposium for Better Mental Health that I attended in September. The Symposium was organised by local Mind charites in Bristol, Bath and South Somerset to increase awareness of the issue of mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.
I initially started writing a summary of each talk, but realised that was far too lengthy, so here are the things I took away from the Symposium:
- 300,000 people leave their job every year due to mental ill-health.
- The cost to employers of mental ill-health is £32-34 billion nationally.
- A Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development study found 37% of sufferers are more likely to get into conflict with colleagues, 57% find it harder to juggle tasks, 80% find it difficult to concentrate and 62% take longer to do tasks.
- Taking care of staff and volunteer mental health is not only duty, but brings the benefits of better performance and morale, increased productivity and innovation, and reduced staff turnover.
- Resilience and mindfulness training are proving very beneficial for the Army and these are now included in the continuous training throughout a soldier’s career.
- Organisational stress in the workplace can lead to long-term health problems for staff. This type of everyday stress includes unmanageable workloads, tight deadlines, insufficient resources, lack of control and poor support from management and peers. A pro-active approach is needed and a commitment to listen to and address staff concerns.
- Mental health difficulties can have intangible symptoms, taking many forms, and can be mistaken for ‘difficult’ or ‘obstructive’ behaviour. It can also manifest in poor performance, poor time-keeping, excessive sick leave, self-medication, aggressive behaviour, attempted suicide and self-harm. The ‘silent sufferer’ is a key symptom of mental health problems, and it is often the most diligent of staff who are at the greatest risk of stress. Don’t ignore, trivialise, avoid/exclude or perceive as weakness – this is a health problem. Talk about mental health, assess the mental health needs of individuals and prioritise mental health in the workplace.
- A Somerset County Council employee gave an insight into his mental wellbeing journey and the positive message that having mental health difficulties doesn’t mean you can’t succeed and progress, you just need the right support, and recommend the use of ‘wellness plans’ to help staff.
- Healthy food and exercise can help with mental health wellbeing. Work place initiatives include fruit bowls, office yoga and meditation, herb and vegetable growing, lunchtime walking clubs and nutritional therapy consultations.
- The new ‘Mental Health at Work’ gateway is an online portal developed by Mind in collaboration with Heads Together, to help organisations and individuals to find resources, and also includes case studies of good practice, a blog sections and glossary. Take a look at this website for more information: www.mentalhealthatwork.org.uk
The voluntary sector relies on funding to operate and needs to ensure its charitable aims are being met in the most cost-effective way possible, but this can mean staff needs are further down the priority list and organisational stress is an issue. In addition, salaries are often low, annual leave the bear minimum, and training and development needs go unmet due to lack of finances. I have experienced first-hand extreme long-term stress in a previous job and faced the difficult choice of taking sick leave, which I knew would put more pressure on my colleagues, or leaving the job I loved (I chose the latter).
Mind is leading the way in workplace wellbeing. If we all increased the priority of staff wellbeing then many more of the dedicated, hard-working staff who make a real difference in the voluntary sector would feel more valued, appreciated and enjoy better mental health and wellbeing. Surely they deserve that recognition and reward.