According to the HSE, one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem at some point; some kind of issue affecting how they think and feel, and therefore, behave. Common problems are anxiety and depression and work can be a factor.
Monday 13th May sees the start of the UK’s Mental Health Awareness Week, an annual event designed to raise awareness and, ultimately, encourage better mental health, both at work and at home.
This year, the theme is body image. This apparent focus on the body and not the mind might seem a little surprising (it is Mental Health Awareness Week, after all) but our mental state often and fundamentally depends on how we feel about ourselves and in turn, that often depends on what we see in the mirror every morning.
Magazines, TV, fashion, cultural norms, superhero movies, social media… they all tell us what we should and shouldn’t be physically, and that ideal rarely accords with what we are. No wonder a 2015 survey concluded that 37% of us are unhappy with our body image and weight. But how does this translate to the workplace?
Body of work
More recently, the CIPD’s 2019 Health and Wellbeing at Work report found that almost three-fifths of organisations have seen an increase in anxiety, depression and other common mental health conditions among employees. In fact, the top two causes of long-term absence due to illness were mental ill health (59%) and stress (54%).
Sticking with the issue of body image, think about how your personal appearance may be interpreted in the course of your job. Starting right at the beginning, there’s the job interview Yes, a good interviewer is focused on skills, experience and relevant qualifications but it’s human nature, they also make assessments based on a your appearance; and a good interviewer is aware of that. Then there’s the first day on the job and all those first impressions you make with new colleagues, bosses and customers. Does your organisation have a dress code? If so, you’re telling your people that there’s a right and a wrong way to look? Yes, a uniform or standards of attire can be a valuable part of a brand, but as last year’s criticised government guidance shows, you have to be careful of the details.
And then, of course, there’s the inevitable ‘office banter’ and you’re smack in the middle of the respect others vs. it’s only a bit of fun circular debate.
Ultimately, if a judgement or comment leaves an employee feeling stressed or belittled then that impacts on their ability to do the job. Maybe they still get it done – probably they do – but their performance could and would be better without the stress and reduced confidence that comes from workplace-induced mental turmoil.
So, what can you do?
A responsible employer (not to mention, an employer that wants to consistently get the best performance from its employees) considers the issue of employee health, and that includes mental health. To return again to the recent CIPD report, there are several suggestions for employer support:
- Encouraging wider awareness of mental health issues at work, including open discussion (of the topic in general and not individual cases!)
- Facilitating access to counselling services.
- Training managers in how to support employees with mental ill health (including how to conduct sensitive discussions and where to point staff who need support).
- Resilience training for employees and managers.
- Providing occupational health services.
- Appointing ‘mental health & wellbeing champions’ to support initiatives and spot potential issues (a kind of mental health early warning radar).
If you’re wondering where to start looking for information and advice, the ACAS framework is a comprehensive place to begin, and there are many training courses out there that focus on promoting good mental health in the workplace.
To find out how our packages on stress, resilience & mental toughness, key issues for HR professionals, and wellbeing programmes might fit your training needs, give us a call on 01582 714285. We’re here to help!