Looking after mental health and wellbeing in the workplace

'and breath' sign against green background to get across mental health message.

Maintaining your mental health and wellbeing is something we have all heard a lot about recently. Throughout the pandemic, there was a lot of focus on how to make sure you are looking after your own wellbeing. Appeals were launched to encourage everyone to talk about how they feel, mindfulness apps were promoted to help us take time away from social media and focus on what really matters, and public figures are now speaking out and helping break the stigma that surrounds mental health. Whilst all these are brilliant and are making a huge difference in the step towards prioritising mental health and wellbeing, there is still a long way to go.

It’s estimated that around 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience some sort of mental health difficulty each year, with anxiety and depression being two of the most common. Unlike some physical conditions, mental health difficulties can be less noticeable. Therefore, treating others with compassion and a non-judgemental attitude will go a long way.

A stressful place

It’s no secret that for a lot of people, the work environment can be an extremely stressful place. Not only are there pressures placed on individuals from their colleagues, but there are also pressures of self-expectations and goals. As a manager, there are steps that can be taken to ensure that your employees feel as comfortable as possible within the work environment.

Here are the facts. In a lifetime, the average person will spend around 90,000 hours at work. To put this into perspective, that’s almost 10 solid years of a human’s life, or a dog’s entire lifespan. This is an incredible amount of time, and it is understandable that this period will not always run smoothly. There will be disputes with co-workers, demanding managers, mundane tasks and more, but making sure that these things don’t get on top of you is something that we all need to be mindful of.

The supportive manager  

The role of a manager is always changing. As we’ve emerged from the pandemic, the mental health and wellbeing of employees have become a focus of attention. With so many expectations placed on individuals, studies have shown that emotions can be high in the current work environment. The Journal of Organizational Psychology have explored this a little further, ‘The current work environment requires employees to exert more effort or face negative consequences from supervisors and peers.’ This is something that must change as this can potentially dehumanise employees and they face the harsh reality of being viewed as statistics or performers rather than human beings.

We’re sure many organisations are guilty at some stage of prioritising contractual obligation over moral obligation. Many years ago, this may have been seen as “good business” however, this view is becoming less common with mental health and wellbeing at the forefront of employer priorities. As a manger there are things you can do to make sure you’re supporting your team and ensuring they feel valued as a member of the team.

Listen vs hearing:

This is something I’m sure we have all been guilty of from time to time. Clear communication is key in almost all work-based scenarios. Know the difference between hearing what someone is saying and truly listening to what they are saying. Take on the role of an active listener; understand the individual and do not interrupt with your own agenda.

To be an active listener we must understand the development of individual personalities. Everyone requires different levels of support, so listen and try to understand their specific needs. This will mean that staff will feel like they can talk openly and freely and will be more likely to feel relaxed within the workplace. If you want to know more, check out our workshop on Advanced listening skills.

Try not to pass judgement:

Very often someone’s behaviour will reflect their feelings. When they act out of line with what is expected in the workplace it can be easy to take offence at someone’s behaviour. Before taking offence or passing judgement ask yourself why they might be behaving in an out-of-character manner.

Don’t be afraid to ask employees how they are feeling and offer support where appropriate. Very often hostile or difficult behaviour will be an indication that there are underlying issues; get to the heart of the problem and this will not only help the individual, but it will help others around them and will help to maintain good mental health and wellbeing within the workplace environment.

Offer a friendly ear:

We want to break the stigma surrounding mental health. The only way to do this is to normalise talking openly and freely about feelings. Show your own vulnerabilities and offer to chat with no pressure or judgment. When the pressures of work increase it can be comforting to know that there is someone to speak to. Get the balance right though; be sure to not come across as pushy but check in with employees every now and then. It’s the small things that make a big difference.

Be flexible:

We’ve all been there: You plan a big day out and slowly plans change then suddenly, you’re in a different city, doing different things with different people. This is obviously an exaggeration (let’s hope) but the point is that not everything always goes to plan, especially in the workplace. As a manager make sure you can be flexible with expectations and deadlines if employees are not coping. If targets are not met, make sure they know that it is not the end of the world. A relaxed attitude is also more likely to increase productivity, so it’s in everyone’s best interests to be flexible and adaptable to your team’s changing needs.

Monitor workload:

Unless you’re a robot (if you are please ignore this) then it is expected that you will need to take a break from time to time.

As a manager, ensure that employees are taking regular and effective breaks away from the desk and the screen. A good way to do this is to physically take yourself into a different environment or even a walk outside. By doing this you will give yourself some headspace and some downtime. It’s so easy to get carried away with what you are doing and work through breaks but they are vitally important for maintaining mental health and wellbeing, not to mention long term productivity, so stay vigilant and don’t get carried away.

Tips for looking after your mental health and wellbeing  

Get active:

A good way to help your general wellbeing and boost your resilience is to get active. This doesn’t mean you have to be the next Mo Farah and start training for the next London marathon or scale a mountain. Take a regular walk, go for a jog or challenge your best buddy to a game of tennis. The choice is yours really, do whatever you enjoy that gets you up and about.

Schedule time for you:

Just as meeting deadlines are important, looking after your wellbeing is too. Therefore, every day you should schedule in some time dedicated to the most important person in your life. Who’s that? I hear you ask. That important person is YOU! Use this time to do something that makes you happy, paint a picture, listen to some music, pamper yourself. Whatever it is you do, make sure it is for you!

Engage in group activities:

Make sure that you do not unintentionally isolate yourself on a day-to-day basis. It is very easy to get wrapped up in daily tasks and time fritters away. Make sure you are chatting with your friends and colleagues and engage in activities with them. If there is anything on your mind, talk to your friends – a problem shared is a problem halved. Above all, have fun with them, life is too short not to have fun at work, enjoy the time you spend there.

Ask for help:

Last but not least, and possibly the most important tip of all, don’t be afraid to ask for help. No one expects you to be superhuman, if you feel at any point that things are becoming too much, don’t be too proud to ask for help. This will not only help you, but it will also encourage others to speak up and do the same. You are not alone.

If you would like to know more about maintaining wellbeing then check out our workshop on My Wellbeing or get in touch to find out more. Alternatively, you can read our blog on creating a good work life balance.

In all endeavours, our mental health and wellbeing should be at the forefront of priorities. However, in the workplace there are steps that can be taken by both managers and individual employees to ensure that we are always taking measure to ensure our mental health and wellbeing is maintained. It is easy to forget that we are only human and sometimes we need to give ourselves a break.

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