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Mental Health

How are you? It can be a bland question; we ask it all the time. We never expect an honest answer nor do we reply honestly. So I ask again, how are you really? Please spend some time to think about your physical and mental health and how you really are. Who could you answer honestly to?

Regular readers will be aware that I am passionate about wellbeing in the workplace. It is a theme in many of my posts and a subject I will frequently return to. I mention it today after attending a Mental Health First Aid course by Isle Listen this week.

The problem of poor mental health

According to figures published by the UK Government poor mental health costs employers between £33 billion and £42 billion a year, and the UK economy between £74 billion and £99 billion per year. Supporting mental health in the workplace has never been more important. Poor mental health causes untold harm to the individual. Those who are lucky obtain support from friends and family, all too often many suffer in silence. Poor mental health can lead to the break up of the family and in some cases the loss of a job, the family home and ultimately homelessness. Crisis states “45% of people experiencing homelessness have been diagnosed with a mental health issue. This rises to 8 out of 10 people who are sleeping rough.” Poor mental health can affect any one of us at any time in our lives, your friends or colleagues might be experiencing difficulties now.

According to St John’s Ambulance 1 in 4 people have left their job due to mental health or wellbeing issues at some point in their career.

It makes good business sense to take action to create a safe working environment for all staff but more importantly it is the right thing to do.

Office culture

Wellbeing is not a tick box exercise. Staff will see through lip-service without action. Training for Mental Health First Aid officers is positive but needs further action. Inform all staff who they can talk to confidentially. Regularly remind staff of who the mental health first aiders are and their role. Create opportunities for discrete conversations. If you operate in an open plan, think about how confidential conversations can take place.

Changes in office culture can take a long a time especially if they are major. The only way to effect change is to examine the problem honestly. Tell everyone what you are doing and explain the process. Explain how it will affect and benefit everyone. Speak to HR; find out at how many sick days are lost each year. Look for patterns from individuals and within team groups/departments. Examine staff turnover. Exit interviews provide an invaluable resource. Listen to the feedback. Again see if any patterns emerge. Most importantly ask staff what they think, but bear in mind they might be reluctant to answer honestly.

Information gathering

The purpose of this stage is to understand the problem. Do not blame anyone, you are looking to make changes and to provide assistance where issues might surface. Talk frankly to the staff. Be mindful though, not all staff will feel safe to talk openly to management. Consider use of a third party. A consultant could prove invaluable assistance at the review stage where names can be anonymised. Staff will see the company is serious about making changes when engaging with external professionals.

When conducting the review think widely about all issues. Consider the office layout. Could something as simple as moving a photocopier help improve workflows? Is the computer system working efficiently or causing problems? Is communication working well? Do staff feel engaged? Possibly you might find the staff don’t even know what the company stands for and only ever consider what takes place within just their team. Do not overlook the physical working environment. Are the windows dirty? Does the office require a new coat of paint?

Implementing mental health changes

All staff must buy into making changes. Hopefully they engaged in the review process. Speak to those who didn’t, find out their concerns. Remember this is not about blame, it is about taking everyone with you. Always remember it takes a long time for a ship to change direction.

Collate all the information, and then consider solutions. The board must support and participate in the process. Consider a Wellbeing committee chaired by a board member, reporting to the board. Make immediate changes that have no cost implications. Many will require long term solutions. Devise a strategy that will work. This is not a wish list, but a plan as to how effect change, with a time scale and costings.

If communication is an issue consider weekly updates to the staff, a suggestion box, restructuring management lines. Find out if the problem is one of systems. This could be expensive, potentially prohibitively so. But look at alternatives and ways round the problem. Staff might not be utilising all of the system’s functionality. Full training and understanding of the system might provide efficiencies no one was aware of. Communicate board decisions to managers and staff, keep staff fully updated. Some staff might not be aware of how their jobs relate to the business as a whole.

Decide on the desired outcome and design a strategy to get there.

Ongoing mental health awareness

Do not forget this review is all about people. That must always be in the forefront of your mind. Do not become side-tracked. Bad practices and methods must change. If there is a culture of working late, ensure staff are encouraged to leave on time. Directors should lead by example. Is there a culture of being tied to work all hours via the phone? If there is bullying culture, which might have been going on for years, introduce a zero tolerance. Send mangers and directors on training courses, or hold courses in the office where feasible.

Monitor the improvements. plan and strategy. Those tasked with change must maintain communication with the board and all staff. Deal with issues swiftly to prevent resentment. This is where the hard work begins. Dealing effectively with issues will ensure success. Introduce mentoring for teams that are struggling. Ultimately there might be no alternative to disciplining managers and possibly directors.

Addressing mental health in the workplace is key and done well productivity will increase, staff turnover will fall, there will be better engagement and increased openness. Constantly look for improvements, build on the work undertaken and continue to monitor the staff’s wellbeing.

Mental health is not restricted to the office. Charities, clubs and associations have their own unique challenges. All organisations should take mental health seriously and consider following the steps outlined above.

How are you?

I opened asking how you are and asked you to spend some time to consider your answer and who you can talk to. If you are struggling, help is available. Reaching out for help is extremely difficult. All too often a stigma still remains. All too many cases brought before the Employment tribunal are based on mental health issues. Individuals can often be blamed, ignoring or denying the underlying issues involved.

Friends and family are there to provide support but, although extremely difficult, your GP is the best person to talk to when problems become too much. Before you reach crisis point there are many local organisations offering assistance, which can be found here Isle of Man Government – Mental health and wellbeing.

A shameless plug

Isle Listen run many courses, including Mental Health First training. They will consider bespoke courses for companies and I would highly recommend everyone look at the work they undertake. If you have a spare moment this afternoon review their website. Consider corporate sponsorship or holding a charity event with proceeds donated to a Mental Health Charity. I have highlighted Isle Listen in the post but there are many mental health charities on the Island all providing key services to the public.

If you are concerned about anyone. Ask “how are you?”, then ask “how are you really?”. They might be desperate for one person to reach out to them.

Please feel free to contact us If you are considering how best to introduce wellbeing in the workplace or wish to challenge and change your workplace culture.

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