Sofy Robertson | Oct 18, 2018 | 0
Creating a Culture of Mental Wellbeing
Written by Rebecca Broad
We all know the stats by now. At any one time, a third of Great Britain’s working population are experiencing symptoms associated with mental ill health. Half of these are severe enough to warrant a diagnosis of a disorder. Combined with the fact that mental ill health affects people’s ability to work more than anything else, it’s enough to make anyone – and particularly those in leadership positions – have a long, hard think about how they can encourage healthy habits in their organisation.
I’m not talking about in-depth HR strategies, sick leave policies, Act 1974 compliance or even the benefits that come with working at larger organisations, such as the Met Office’s 24/7 access to professional counselling services – though of course, those can all be vitally important.
Instead, I’m thinking about the little things that all add to up to make a big difference. Hot on the heels of Mental Health Awareness Week, it’s important for us to go beyond rhetoric, into action. Some of these suggestions might sound simple, but if they make someone else’s day a bit brighter – or help you avoid unwittingly making it more difficult – then why not?
1. Take the time
Attention and time can be scarce resources in any organisation. Spending a little of yours on a work colleague shows them that you care. If you feel like someone’s acting a bit off – perhaps they’re quieter or snappier than usual or struggling to get into work on time – dropping by their desk with a cuppa, or sending a friendly email, might be enough to let them know they’ve got someone on their side.
2. Lead by example
Healthy habits can have a big impact on mental wellness. Take a break from sitting every 20 minutes or so, even if it’s just to stretch. Ensure you make the most of your lunch; try not to be stuffing a sandwich in your mouth while staring at a screen. If it’s tricky to stop overthinking about a task when you’re supposed to be on a break, try listening to music, mindfulness tutorials or a podcast. A walk outside can work wonders and we do have the most beautiful city! Assess what out-of-hours actions are necessary for your role and talk to a manager if you’re unsure. Sending emails from your bed on a Sunday morning or Wednesday night probably isn’t vital, so set up out-of-office automatic replies and properly switch off.
Not only will these simple actions increase your own wellbeing – they can, for example, lower stress and therefore blood pressure – but, you’ll set an example to other colleagues. Displaying behaviours like this gives others social permission to do the same.
3. Be aware of your language
It’s all the rage to post on LinkedIn about how there should be less stigma around mental health, but make sure you apply this to your language. Avoid joking about mental illness or using them as adjectives or insults. If you accidentally do, apologise to those present: you have no idea how these words might hurt them. Every time I hear the word psycho used to describe irritating behaviour, I’m reminded of how difficult it was when a close friend who experienced symptoms of psychosis passed away last year.
Language is incredibly powerful, so use it with care. The idea can even be extended to everyday office items – having to make my manager’s coffee in a mug which had the words “I don’t need therapy, I just watch Harry Potter” printed on it didn’t exactly help my shame around seeking help via counselling!
4. Acknowledge everyone
Employee recognition doesn’t have to come in the form of fancy awards or expensive gift vouchers, though a good celebration can certainly lift spirits! How about having magnets of everyone’s name on a whiteboard, with pens available so people can write, doodle and share their acknowledgements? Or ending each meeting with a vote of thanks to each person present? These little pats on the back don’t have to just be about work, either.
Perhaps someone’s recently hit a new fitness milestone or has organised a charity event. Acknowledging any hard graft can really boost morale.
5. Accept people for how they are
Not everything works for everyone. While some people swear by mindfulness techniques in their lunch break, others find it useless or even harmful. Encourage healthy habits but do so gently. Chances are, your colleagues know themselves better than you know them! Being open also gives you a chance to learn from others about how they manage their wellbeing – you might pick up some new techniques.
6. Open up
NatWest’s James Court recently published a video with TEDx and mental health awareness campaigner Gill Hayes. One of her top 3 tips for business owners was to encourage openness around wellbeing, as a recent survey revealed that over a third of us fear that discussing a mental health issue would jeopardise our career. A mental illness should be treated in just the same way as a physical issue.
Policies and strategies around this should be clear to read, and accessible. If you feel comfortable to, speaking about your own mental health may help others to do the same.
7. Group up
Some people need alone time to recuperate, whereas others regain energy from being around people. You could invite someone out for coffee, or a lunchtime run, or if you’re feeling more ambitious, organise a regular lunchtime club or after work get-together. It doesn’t have to cost much, or anything – you could put a poster up by the kettle for a craft club, arrange a 5-a-side football league, or brighten up any outdoor space with new plants or a lick of paint.
Donna Hart, Director of The Family Law Company, acknowledges that the work the team undertakes can be particularly emotionally challenging. She founded a Wellbeing Group with the aim of encouraging a supportive culture which promotes wellbeing. Donna’s idea for the Wellbeing Group is for it to help people feel more comfortable discussing mental health and to inspire a positive environment despite the nature of client difficulties. During Mental Health Awareness Week, Donna ran a coffee morning with pastries, inviting everyone along to discuss ways in which colleagues can support each other for physical and mental wellness.
As the charity Mind explains, everyone has mental health. In the same way as physical health, it moves up and down a spectrum of good to poor.
We spend plenty of time in the workplace, so simple actions like these can go a long way to creating a culture of wellbeing to improve productivity and – more importantly – overall health.