Tackling mental health in the workplace

Tackling mental health in the workplace

One of the most overused phrases in the workplace, and life in general, is “I’m feeling so stressed”.

Understanding what someone means when they say they are “stressed” is hugely important.

In some cases, “stress” is wrongly used by people who are facing a one-off deadline, perhaps a presentation to colleagues or a pitch for new business.

Twenty years ago, we would have simply referred to this as having “butterflies”.

The casual use of the “S” word is unhelpful when it comes to diagnosing those who really are suffering from a genuine form of stress.

Stress is dangerous when it is unrelenting and overwhelming, when someone feels every day brings more of the same and where there is no sense of successfully completing a task.

At FOHCUS, we have seen this in the teaching profession, in the NHS and in businesses where insufficient thought has been given to the wellbeing of employees.

The best way to tackle mental health in the workplace is to put in place the right policies and procedures and to ensure that line managers are sufficiently well trained to understand the signs that something isn’t right with a colleague – and to ensure they receive the necessary support and signposting to the correct health services.

For example, there is a considerable difference between someone feeling stress because of overwork and someone who is suffering from clinical depression, and therefore medically ill.

The solution is not to offer employees free gym memberships (these are invariably taken up by people who already go to the gym!) or to have mental health First Aiders in your business.

There are lots of other gimmicks that companies will try to sell into businesses to make them feel like they are taking a responsible approach to tackling mental health.

FOHCUS works with companies to put in place bespoke wellbeing plans from a clinician’s perspective.

This means ensuring that a business has a structured approach to wellbeing from the right pre-employment checks as part of a comprehensive health surveillance strategy through to the correct training and signposting of services.

Privately run businesses are not public services. Offering lunchtime yoga and pilates are “nice to haves” but the onus for exercising regularly, eating well and drinking in moderation are the responsibility of the individual, not the employer.

There are numerous benefits to putting in place the right wellbeing plan for a business. Most importantly, you are taking a proactive approach to ensuring your staff are in the best possible shape to work for you.

This should, in turn, help to make your company more productive. The right strategy should also encourage brand loyalty – helping to ensure high levels of employee happiness and staff retention.

Your employees are your most valuable assets. You would expect a company vehicle to have a pre-delivery check and, as a matter of course, an annual service. Why would you not give the same care and attention to your staff?

I am often asked what the difference is between “occupational health” and “wellbeing”. The answer is that traditional OH was reactive, intervening when a problem had already arisen, whereas wellbeing is a far more proactive and preventative form of OH.

The cost of not taking a proactive approach to mental health in the workplace can be hugely expensive and distracting for the business and the people who work for you.

But in setting a strategy, it is important to take a long-term view rather than implementing a couple of opportunistic, feel-good gimmicks.