Wellbeing in the Workplace
Wellbeing - Stress and Mental Health at Work
As recorded in the Health and Safety Annual Report 2014 there has been a 'gradual increase since 2011' in relation to stress-related illnesses in the workplace and the figure now stands at 51%. It is clear that every job brings its own set of tasks, responsibilities and day-to-day problems, along with the pressures and demands that are placed on us form an unavoidable part of working life. Of course, some pressure can be a good thing. It can help to keep us motivated and can also be the key to a sense of achievement and job satisfaction. On the other hand, excessive workplace pressure, the stress to which it can lead, can be harmful.
Mental health problems are becoming increasing common, therefore for an employer this can lead to increased costs, and these costs are not just around absence, but also around 'presenteeism' (employees attending the workplace when they are not well enough to do so). However many employers do not have a mental health policy, despite there being a legal duty of care (under the Health and Safety legislation) that employers must exercise and the failure to do this may result in claims being taken forward to either the Tribunal or the Royal Court.
Mental health illness is indiscriminate in who can be affected - in fact it can affect anyone - however It is not always possible to identify when members of staff are finding the pressures of the job too much to cope with or are suffering with mental health problems as there may be no outwardly visible signs. It is made even more difficult when individuals give the impression that they are coping well - whether this is because they themselves are not aware of changes in their usual health or behaviour patterns. Or maybe it is because of the fear factor around the stigma, prejudice and discrimination that often surrounds mental health problems.
In order to promote workplace wellbeing and implement a mental health strategy there are steps that should be taken:
- Find your Champions - ensure that at least one of these is a senior manager as a lack of commitment and/or engagement from the top can set a poor example and undermine the whole ethos;
- Develop a policy - ensure employees are aware of the policy and the location;
- Communication - Clarity and openness is key in communicating the message - ineffective communication of the main objectives will result in a lack of understanding and engagement as well as confusion - good communication allows trust to develop;
- Show support and inclusion - put mental health on the agenda and start talking about it in the workplace and provide a list of useful contacts (both internal and extenal;
- Recognize the issues - do not ignore the fact that employees may feel uncertain or embarrassed about what to say or how to react by dispelling the myths and replacing with facts;
- Train employees - Contact Mind Jersey - firstname.lastname@example.org - for details on their Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training sessions;
Below is a list of factors, which is not exhaustive, but may indicate stress or mental health problems:
- Difficulties (actual or perceived) coping with workload;
- Absenteeism (frequent or prolonged);
- Disturbed sleeping patterns;
- Reduced efficiency, increased mistakes;
- Alcohol or other substance abuse;
- Relationships difficulties with colleagues and/or issues around communication
- Lack of energy
- Mood swings
Developing a Policy - things to consider and include:
- Consider possible causes of workplace stress (follow a risk assessment) and implement procedures to reduce or control the risks. Ensure such procedures are regularly reviewed;
- Encourage senior staff to keep a watchful eye for any employees exhibiting signs of suffering from stress. Having observed such symptoms of stress from an employee discreetly arrange an informal chat ensuring it is know that this information will be kept in utmost confidence;
- Provide training and information covering good management practice as well as health and safety;
- Provide advice on options for confidential counselling for staff affected by stress caused by either work or external factors;
- The promotion of a good work-life balance, with senior employees setting good examples for instance taking lunch breaks, reduction in excessive working hours, discouraging responding to work emails in the evenings, weekends or on annual leave etc.
- Ensuring that anyone who believes they may be experiencing levels of stress, which may be harmful, knows who they can talk to for help.
- Ensuring that a zero tolerance is shown where issues of bullying and/or harassment are raised;
- The offer of additional support to a member of staff who is experiencing stress outside work e.g. bereavement or separation etc.
- Review of job description and role - can changes be made (either temporary or permanent) to these;
- Make reasonable adjustments to help an employee stay in work or return to work eg flexible working - working from home, condensed working hours, flexible start and/or finish times;
- Encourage breaks rather than a 'work-through' practice and ensure that employees take their annual leave;
- Consider providing additional help with workload;
- Offer a 'buddy/go-to' person for assistance, to help an employee to speak up and raise their concerns;
- Treat everyone as an individual there is no 'one size fits all' approach to dealing with mental health issues;
- Click here for a brief overview/checklist
JACS Mar 2016