Mental Health Awareness Week: Creating a Thriving Workforce

This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week takes place on 08-14 May 2017. The event follows three key themes; why some communities are under strain and what government can do to support them to thrive; what steps we can take to look after our mental health, building resilience to cope with the demands of life; and how many of us are surviving or thriving, and the difference between the two. Ruth Davies, Senior Mental Health Employment Officer at Shropshire Council’s Supported Employment Service, Enable, speaks about the steps that employers can take to improve the mental health of their staff:
“We still have a long way to go when it comes to breaking down the stigma around mental illness and the work-place is no exception. It is estimated that around half of all working people will experience a mental health condition at some point in their life, yet the subject still seems to be avoided and continues to make many people feel uncomfortable. The average full time worker will spend 92,120 hours at work during their lifetime – so surely we should be thriving not simply surviving. What can employers do to change this?
When it comes to maintaining mental health at work, much of the responsibility lies with the employer. Creating a work environment that is accommodating to the staff’s mental health needs has been proven to increase productivity and reduce staff turnover. Research conducted by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) has shown that metal illness is the leading cause of workplace absence in the UK, after minor illnesses – this includes individuals taking time off due to stress, depression and anxiety.
Organisations are quick to adopt practices that save money, this could include cutting staff, minimising expenses and reducing office space. So when mental illness is estimated to be costing the UK economy over £70 billion a year, ways to both prevent and deal with it at work should be at the top of every employer’s list. There are a few simple steps for employers to take that can produce significant improvements in this area.
Providing staff with a good work/life balance can bring direct benefits to an organisation. In the short-term, longer hours may seem like a good idea, however, having a workforce that is stressed and tired can not only cause an increase in sick leave but can also have a direct impact on the company’s bottom line. Employers should make sure that their staff are working reasonable hours with the correct amount of breaks.
When it comes to hiring new staff, using a supported employment service can bring fantastic benefits. They are able to provide support for both the employee and employers when any health related issues arise. A supported employment service can also help with advice and guidance on training the rest of the work-force to deal with situations surrounding mental health.
Many people experience bullying at work. In work bullying can have detrimental effects on people’s mental health. Promoting positive working relationships can help to prevent these situations from occurring. Bullying can happen in many different forms such as creating unrealistic demands; taking credit for other people’s work; spreading rumours; ignoring a colleague and excluding individuals from breaks and meetings. It is crucial that employers are aware of the signs that bullying may be happening in their work-force and that they implement effective ways of dealing with it or, even better, prevent such behaviour from happening in the first place. For anyone looking for guidance on preventing work place bulling, you can read the ‘Bullying and harassment at work: a guide for managers and employers’
Research shows that 67% of employees still feel unable to talk about mental health. Breaking this taboo and being the first to bring the conversation to the table, can pave the way for others to come forward with their thoughts, feelings and experiences of mental health. One way to get the conversation going is to book a session with Mental Health First Aid. This is an educational course which teaches people how to identify, understand and help a person who may be developing a mental health issue. You can visit their website here.
There is still a lot of stigma around mental health – identifying possible problems in the workplace and putting procedures in place that promote mental well-being is a great way for employers to start reducing this stigma.
If you are an employer and you are interested in hiring someone through enable, or if you have a mental health need and are looking for employment, please contact 01743 276900 or email