Nine ways to support mental wellbeing in the workplace

Improving mental health and wellbeing is a global challenge and it’s every bit as important inside the workplace as it is outside of it. In fact, it could be affecting more people than you realize; research suggests 77% of employees have experienced symptoms of poor mental health at some stage in their lives.

As well as the obvious harm caused to the individual, it’s costly for businesses too. It’s been reported that mental health problems are costing UK businesses up to £42 billion a year, including £8 billion spent on replacing employees who’ve left as a result of their problems.

Fortunately, the focus on the importance of employee mental wellbeing has increased in recent years. Attitudes are shifting as the stigma that used to be associated with it is slowly but surely being removed, and more opportunities are being taken to bring the issue out into the open.

Awareness is growing thanks to events like World Mental Health Awareness Week that takes place every May. And with World Mental Health Day on October 10th, it’s particularly timely to think about some ways businesses could help nurture better mental wellbeing amongst their employees.

Make it OK for employees to personalize their workspace

It’s apparent that when employees are given some flexibility over personalizing their work environment, they’re happier and this research from the University of Exeter suggests they might be up to 32% more productive too. It’s a way to express personality and affirm shared identify.

Some companies might be uncomfortable with this – after all, many still subscribe to the lean approach to management and, in fairness, a large heap of clutter is unlikely to be conducive to working efficiently and feel calm and focused. There is a balance to be struck but it certainly seems that by allowing employees some leeway, it makes them feel a lot happier.

Give employees the space to work in the way they prefer

We all have different preferences about the environment in which we’re working and it seems the more these preferences can be accommodated the better. For example, this study from Cornell University found that employees who were exposed to open office noise had increased epinephrine levels (also known as adrenaline – in other words, the trigger for the body’s fight-or-flight response).

While some companies have embraced open-plan offices to try to increase collaboration and communication, it does appear that for some employees at least it’s not conducive to a happy and productive working environment. If they can’t concentrate properly, it can be emotionally draining and raise stress levels.

It won’t always be practical, but for those businesses that could take another look at how their working spaces are set up and offer some choice, it’s a worthwhile consideration.

Promote better physical wellbeing

It’s generally accepted that physical activity improves mental health. Not every company can offer its employees on-site gym facilities but there are still plenty of things that could be done to encourage employees to take better care of themselves physically.

That might be arranging activities that can be done during the day either as breaks or even as perks – for instance, a weekly yoga session or a lunchtime walking group perhaps. Even very simple things like providing fresh fruit, encouraging employees to use stairs rather than lifts and making sure water is readily available supports a culture that encourages people to pause and reflect on the health choices they’re making.

Encourage employees to stick to their working hours

Does your company have a culture of presenteeism? Maybe people aren’t using up their annual holiday entitlement or perhaps what’s known as ‘leaveism’ is becoming more prevalent – in other words, where employees are working during non-working hours like holidays and weekends.

Most people experience occasional busy periods where they choose to do a few extra hours every now and then, but if it’s becoming their usual mode of working, that could start to affect their mental health. It could lead to a situation where over-working becomes the norm and that can result in damaging burnout; this CIPD research suggests these kinds of over-working practices are worryingly commonplace.

So try to address this by talking to employees about the importance of not routinely working outside regular hours – and let them know if they are struggling to fit their work in, it’s important they raise the issue with their manager.

Make a point of showing appreciation for one another’s efforts

Are you telling employees their work matters? Are employees telling each other their efforts are valued? Let’s face it, we’re all very quick to criticize ourselves and not really give ourselves credit for what we’ve accomplished! If that thought process becomes the norm it can start to steadily chip away at wellbeing.

If, however, employees are routinely being thanked and feel their overall contribution is appreciated as well as the results they achieve, that can have a really positive effect on wellbeing. It builds their confidence in their own capabilities and that has a knock-on positive effect on mental resilience too.

Leverage the wellbeing benefits of giving

The act of giving makes people feel good. Most people would probably agree that they get a ‘buzz’ from it. Organizations who want to help their employees with their mental health might find it useful to take a look at what they can do to harness this wellbeing buzz.

There are all kinds of ways to give of course. One of the most obvious ways is giving to charity. This doesn’t just have to be financial contributions. It could also be via contributing time in the form of volunteering. Giving manifests itself in many ways, however, it could include giving up some time to mentor someone else in the business perhaps.

Even something as simple as giving recognition and appreciation to other people can make the person saying the ‘thank you’ feel every bit as good as the person on the receiving end.

Be flexible about using work time to deal with non-work worries

People don’t leave their problems at the door when they come into work, and those little pockets of worry can start to grow if they aren’t addressed. One way employers can help their employees’ mental wellbeing is by giving them some space to deal with these issues.

That might mean knowing it’s ok to take 15 minutes to make a phone call to get an issue sorted out. It might be allowing employees to work from home on the odd day or finish a bit early to go to an appointment. Basically, the more flexibility there is to deal with out-of-work pressures, the more likely it is that the employee is going to feel able to cope.

Utilize external resources to support wellbeing activity

Can your company give employees any specific tools that might help them with their mental health and wellbeing? It doesn’t have to cost a fortune – there are free external resources your company could make use of. For instance, these wellness action plans have been created by mental health charity MIND and can provide guides for both employees and line managers.

You could take a look at the Heads Together programme. There are also wellbeing apps like Headspace that help people find ways to achieve calmer minds. Employers might also want to think about providing access to online counseling or therapists; we love Buffer’s recent initiative that connects their remote workers to mental health coaches.

Equip your managers with the skills to manage mental health issues

Managers have a vital role to play in improving mental health in the workplace – they really are the frontline but they need guidance to know how best to deal with situations.

Read more: Could employee recognition support workplace wellbeing?

It might be a case of taking a bit of time to tune in to how employees are feeling; great managers are likely to have a pretty accurate idea if someone’s suffering in silence and support them accordingly. It’s also worth considering if managers might need some training in the signs to look out for – not only so they’re better equipped to help in general but also to enable them to identify if a problem could need more specialized, and perhaps even urgent, help.