Wednesday, 8 April 2020

How practising empathy can create a better work environment

No matter what kind of industry you work in, the chances are there will be times when work colleagues clash, emotions run high and stress levels go through the roof. Spending so much of our time (whether in person or online) with work colleagues is sure to put a strain on our relationships from time to time.

So, how can we improve our working relationships and what can we do to create a more positive work environment? In Denmark, empathy classes are a part of the curriculum, teaching children from the ages of 6 to 16 how to empathise with others and help to solve each other’s problems collaboratively. Although this method might not necessarily work in an adult workplace, by practising empathy in other ways, we can create a better environment.

The three types of empathy

Psychologist Daniel Goleman believes there are three types of empathy: compassionate, cognitive and emotional. 

  1. Cognitive Empathy – Being aware of how someone is feeling or what they're thinking by understanding what other people are experiencing emotionally or mentally on an intellectual level. For example, you recognise when someone is feeling sad even though you might not actually feel their sadness.
  2. Emotional Empathy – Physically feeling someone else’s emotions. Perhaps a loved one is going through a lot of pain which creates an emotional response from you such as crying. 
  3. Compassionate Empathy – As well as understanding someone’s feelings on an intellectual level and becoming emotionally involved, compassionate empathy means that you want to help the person.

By showing all three types of empathy with the people we work with, we are able to create a sense of trust between one another and connect on a deeper level. In a work environment, you might find that different situations require a different type of empathy, so it’s important to recognise when to understand, when to feel, and when to help.

The American website Businessolver delivered a Workplace Monitor Report in 2017 which detailed how empathy in the workplace impacts on the productivity of employers.

Incorporating empathy into the workplace

There are many ways you can incorporate empathy into the workplace:

  • Undertake surveys and questionnaires so you can understand employees better.
  • Listen more to colleagues and ask more questions.
  • Shadow a colleague in another role so you can observe their working day.
  • Try to establish facts before making assumptions about a situation.
  • Organise social activities once a month to allow workers to get to know each other on a more personal level.
  • Encourage group lunches to promote inclusion.

In 2018, HMRC undertook an empathy experiment to discover how they could improve relationships at work, the results were very interesting.

Working in an environment where there’s little or no compassion between employees and employers can heavily impact on a person’s mental health. Making a few relatively small changes that encourage staff to practise empathy can make a huge difference to the work environment and people’s wellbeing.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Ways to tackle sexual discrimination at work

Even though there is legislation in place to prevent sexual discrimination in the workplace, unfortunately, there are still many cases where this occurs. Sexual discrimination comes in many different forms and can affect both men and women. In many instances, it is considered to be harassment, victimisation and bullying. This kind of behaviour can be extremely upsetting to the person involved and can have a negative and detrimental effect on their mental wellbeing.

As an employer or employee, it’s important to recognise when sexual discrimination occurs, deal with it appropriately and put systems into place that will prevent it from happening in the future.

What is sexual discrimination?

Although it may come under many different guises, here are some examples of the types of sexual discrimination you might experience at work.

  • Different rates of pay for male and females doing the same job.
  • Employing someone based purely on their sex.
  • Being made to wear specific clothing that is associated with being male or female. For example, if women are made to wear skirts and heeled shoes at work.
  • Being made redundant or dismissed because of your sex.
  • Training or specific roles within the company only being offered to one sex.
  • Refusing flexible working hours to enable a parent to take their child to school.
  • Comments about someone’s appearance.
  • Sexist remarks or jokes.
  • Sexual harassment such as inappropriate physical advances or verbal suggestive remarks, and offensive comments related to a person’s sex.

The Independent reported on a recent study undertaken by researchers from the University College of London, that women who have been subjected to sexual discrimination are more likely to suffer from depression as a result, and 26% reported psychological distress.

As an employee experiencing sexual discrimination, it is important to tackle the issue either directly with the person involved, your boss, or a member of the company’s HR team. We understand this may seem like a daunting subject to broach and you might be worried about the consequences, however, Citizens Advice can provide you with further guidance.

Ways to deal with sexual discrimination

  • Keep a record of any incidents, making sure you document the date and specific behaviour or comments.
  • Make the person involved aware that you find their comments or behaviour offensive, it makes you feel uncomfortable and you would like them to stop.
  • Speak to someone in HR or someone in authority at work. 
  • Get advice from ACAS or Citizens Advice.

If the sexual discrimination continues or is not dealt with, you may have to seek legal advice.

As an employer, it is vital that you put procedures into place to prevent sexual discrimination in the workplace. You can also get further information and advice from ACAS about how to prevent sexual harassment, discrimination and victimisation.

Helping people who are depressed or with other mental health issues as a result of discrimination

Providing an opportunity for employees impacted by discrimination to talk to a trained therapist about their experiences and feelings, can help them continue to work, or get back to work as soon as possible. 

First Psychology Assistance provides a range of services for organisations and businesses including online counselling and psychological therapy. For further details visit our website. We also provide bespoke and off the shelf training solutions to support mental health at work.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Coping with unemployment

Worrying about unemployment is a frightening thought and, for some of us, a constant worry. With current economic pressures and the increase of online businesses, more and more companies are struggling to keep going. This sad reality means that, each year, many employees find themselves without a job.

Perhaps you’ve just left school or university and you’re only just beginning your career search. Whatever your circumstance, being out of work can be extremely daunting and can cause a huge amount of stress and anxiety. Initially, your greatest fear of being unemployed might be how you’re going to cope financially, but this could then lead on to more worrying issues.

Research is ongoing at the University of Cambridge to discover why unemployment is detrimental to our health and wellbeing.

How unemployment can affect us

Being out of work for long periods of time can take its toll on our mental wellbeing and it can affect us in different ways:

  • The financial burden of not being able to pay our bills can create anxiety.
  • Unsuccessful job applications and interviews can lead to a lack of self-worth and self-confidence.
  • Our quality of life is affected and we’re no longer able to enjoy costly social activities, holidays or material goods.
  • Financial stress can cause arguments at home with partners and family.

Owing to difficult situations and a feeling of hopelessness, the ongoing effects of being out of work can spiral out of control unless we take certain actions to deal with the problem.

Steps to coping with unemployment

Seek financial help – As soon as you find yourself out of work, get in touch with local or national organisations that can give you financial advice. You might find that you are entitled to certain benefits, and there are also temporary measures that can be put in place to help with paying your mortgage or rent. Speak to the bank and any lenders you may owe money to as most are usually understanding and might offer a short-term payment break. The Money Advice Service has a handy checklist to follow online.

Speak to a close friend or family member –  Talking to someone can help ease the burden and possibly offer an alternative perspective on your situation. They might even come up with some positive ideas that you hadn’t thought of so try not to keep everything bottled up.

Schedule fun time – Make sure you still schedule time for enjoying yourself. Not everything has to cost money. Go out walking, Skype or visit friends or take up a new hobby (there are lots of great YouTube videos on all sorts of topics to help you learn new skills). Also, many local leisure centres offer activities that are free if you’re in receipt of certain allowances.

Keep a routine – When you’re unemployed, it can be easy to fall out of a routine and this can result in a lack of motivation. You’ll find if you stick to a routine, it’s less likely feelings of a lack of self-worth will creep in. Getting up at a reasonable time in the morning, dressing as though you were going to work and planning tasks for the day will help you remain focused. Devote a few hours each day to your job search, contacting potential employers and preparing for interviews.

Stay positive – Try to avoid negativity and keep a positive frame of mind by practising positive affirmations, visualisation techniques and meditation. These kinds of activities can help reduce feelings of anxiety which, in turn, can lead to depression or serious physical conditions caused by ongoing stress.

Keep yourself healthy – By maintaining a healthy diet and undertaking regular exercise, both your physical and mental wellbeing will benefit. It’s scientifically proven that food and mood go hand in hand so make sure you’re eating the right things. Mind has lots of helpful tips for healthy eating.

Network – Networking is a great way to find potential job openings as well as giving you the opportunity to socialise and meet new people. Try and find some networking groups - there are lots of specific groups on social networking platforms as well as real life face to face groups. Keeping in touch with positive minded people can help keep you motivated. Join social media groups in the areas that you’re interested in as very often people post vacancies or offer advice online.

Do charity work – By helping others, you’ll not only feel like you have a sense of purpose, you could gain new skills and it could also impress a potential employer and give you the edge in an interview situation.

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Ways to stop being angry and start feeling calmer at work

It’s not uncommon for work to be the root cause of anxiety and stress. Whether it’s an excessive workload, demanding deadlines or difficult colleagues that are putting on the pressure, we can often find ourselves in turmoil. But how do you cope when our reaction to stress leads us to feel angry and act aggressively?

Anger is the immediate response we experience when we feel violated in some way. Perhaps somebody overstepped their remit and did something that should be your role, perhaps your opinion keeps being overlooked, or perhaps a colleague talks loudly beside your desk which prevents you from working properly. There are many scenarios that could lead us to feel angry at work.

The effects of anger

As well as resulting in aggressive behaviours such as arguments and conflict at work, anger can have a damaging effect on both our mental and physical wellbeing. When stress and anger becomes a problem, we might experience the following:

  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Skin problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Headaches
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Other health issues

These effects can be extremely serious if the physical symptoms are ongoing and not treated accordingly. Innovare Journal of Health Sciences undertook research about the impact of anger on the human body, and the findings are fascinating.

So, how can we learn to allay anger in the workplace and start feeling calmer?

Focus on your breathing
When you feel like you’re losing your cool and the red mist starts to set in, it’s human instinct to take quick, shallow breaths. Make a conscious effort to take more controlled deep breaths as this can lower your heart rate, stress levels and blood pressure.

Recognise when you’re angry 
Rage can cause us to act irrationally, so by recognising when we start to feel angry, we can challenge our thoughts. If you can help your mind take a step outside of the situation, it will give you a better perspective and prevent you from acting inappropriately.

Release your anger
Exercise and walking outside in the fresh air can release serotonin in the brain and will help you to feel calmer and more relaxed.

Prevent angry feelings 
As the saying goes, prevention is better than the cure. Try relaxation exercises, meditation and visualisation on a daily basis. When performed together, this combination can help you to remain calm in stressful situations before you reach boiling point.

Focus on something else
Step away from a situation where your anger is rising to the surface and focus on something more positive to distract your mind. Perhaps try listening to your favourite music, chatting to a friend or turning to a different task that is less stressful. When you feel in a better frame of mind, you can go back to the task that you stepped away from.

Release your thoughts
Put pen to paper and express how you’re feeling. Not only can this remove the negative and angry thoughts from your head, it’s a great way to prevent you from speaking or reacting in anger and making a situation worse.

Often, anger occurs because we let negative feelings build up over time. To avoid this, try speaking to the person involved or even a close friend about how you’re feeling. Communication can nip any feelings of anger in the bud and will help you understand the point of view of the other person and them you. 

Friday, 7 February 2020

Become more likeable in the workplace

It’s human nature to want to be liked and accepted for who we are, and this isn’t just when we’re children at school, but it also continues into adulthood and the workplace.

Although some people don’t care about whether they’re liked or not, for others, it can be much more difficult.

What are the benefits of being liked at work?

  • It can increase self-confidence
  • A sense of belonging
  • Friendship
  • To prevent loneliness
  • To feel respected
  • Career progression
There are many reasons why we might want to be liked and when we’re not, we might experience negative emotions, thoughts and feelings such as lack of self-worth, anxiety and fear. Very often a toxic work environment is caused by a clash of personalities, so it’s understandable that we would want to avoid this. In an article published by the BBC, Mitch Prinstein examines in more detail the effects and importance of popularity in the workplace.

Tips to becoming more likeable at work

We wouldn’t encourage changing your fundamental personality to fit in, but there are small actions you can take to help you become more likeable if you feel this is an issue.

  1. Rather than find problems at work, find solutions. Your boss might not thank you for pointing out everything that is wrong, but they may thank you for offering ways to improve systems. 
  2. Try not to compete with work colleagues. Always try your best at work but don’t compare yourself or try to outsmart others just to score points.
  3. Accept responsibility if you make a mistake and don’t point the blame at someone else. This will only cause animosity and a lack of trust.
  4. Smile more and use peoples’ names when you talk to them. This might seem like a simple thing to do but it can put people at ease and make them warm to you.
  5. Be helpful whenever possible but also accept help when you need it. It’s a thin line, but don’t be a pushover either if it is likely to cause you stress.
  6. Don’t ignore criticism, use it to improve where you can.
  7. Be reliable and timely.
  8. Don’t gossip about your boss or colleagues. It’s not nice to be the subject of idle gossip and it can create an unwelcome atmosphere. The chances are people will like you less if you speak negatively of others.
  9. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or contribute your ideas in meetings but also know when to listen and when to speak.
  10. Don’t exclude colleagues from social events.
  11. Think before you speak. Take a moment to ask yourself whether what you are about to say is hurtful or offensive to someone else. To become more likeable, it’s important to speak to people in a manner that you would like to be spoken to.
  12. Perform small acts of kindness. Perhaps if you’re going to make a coffee, ask your colleagues if they would like one, or be flexible with your lunch breaks if someone else needs to take theirs at the same time.

Thursday, 23 January 2020

How to stop saying 'yes' and start saying 'no'

Although there are times when saying yes is the right option and it can be to our advantage, for example, if we are hoping for a promotion at work or a pay rise, there are also times when we should say no for the sake of our mental health and wellbeing.

Perhaps you’re already overworked and you’ve been asked to take on an extra workload, or maybe you’ve been asked to work late to help with an assignment. Whatever the reason, if saying yes is causing you stress and making you resentful, then it’s probably time to learn to say no.

Ongoing negative thoughts and feelings can put a great amount of pressure on our mind and body and will eventually take their toll, resulting in physical side effects such as headaches, heart palpitations and nausea. If these symptoms are left untreated, you are putting yourself at greater risk of heart disease, ulcers and depression.

Why do we find it so difficult to say no?

There are many reasons why we might find it hard to say no:

  • Fear of rejection
  • We don’t want to appear rude, unkind or selfish
  • We don’t want to upset or make people angry
  • We don’t want to cause an argument
  • We’re afraid of losing our job

Steve Peters, author of The Chimp Paradox, rationalises our inner emotions and explains why we make hasty decisions. If you struggle with saying no and suffer from anxiety and stress because of it, this book can help you gain a clearer perspective on your thoughts and emotions and it offers ways to become more confident and assertive.

Things to remember when saying no

  • It doesn’t make you a bad person
  • You’re not responsible for other people’s reactions
  • Try not to worry about what people think
  • Value yourself 
  • Remember how much stress and resentment saying yes has caused you in the past
  • You are within your rights to say no
  • What do you gain from saying yes? Does the positive outweigh the negative?

How can we learn to say no confidently?

It’s always tempting to begin with “I’m sorry but…” and to rustle up a tangled web of lies, however, this can make saying no even more difficult. You can be direct and confident without appearing rude and even though it might feel awkward and uncomfortable to begin with, the more you practise, the easier it will become.

Practise saying the words out loud to yourself or to a friend, making sure you remain polite yet self-assured at the same time. You could try something along the lines of; “I appreciate you asking me to help with the project, but I already have plans for that evening”.

If you feel that saying yes on this particular occasion would benefit you, maybe suggest a different time when it’s more convenient for you; “I would love to help but Tuesday isn’t good for me. Would Thursday be an option instead?”.

When we’re asked to do something that we don’t want to do, we might feel under pressure to say we’ll think about it, but this will only prolong the worry and anxiety. Imagine all the positive feelings you’ll experience once you have said no: self-confidence, empowerment, freedom and relief.

Remember that it’s impossible to please everyone all the time and by putting ourselves first and not spreading ourselves too thinly, we are able to focus better on the tasks we do say yes to and we’ll be less susceptible to negative thoughts and emotions.

Friday, 10 January 2020

How to pick yourself up when your job is dragging you down

Owing to the fact that we spend so much time at work, it’s inevitable there will be times when our job gets on top of us. Even if you are fortunate enough to love your job, there’ll be days when you feel overwhelmed, stressed or lacking in motivation. Although this isn’t uncommon, it can put a lot of pressure on our mental and physical wellbeing.

Long work hours, disagreements with colleagues, job insecurity and a heavy workload can lead to anxiety, stress, depression, sleep problems and lethargy. So, what can we do to alleviate angst and stress and get ourselves back on track when our job is dragging us down?

Stay motivated

Once you start to lose motivation at work, it will not only affect the way you think but also your actions. Perhaps you no longer feel the urgency to get to work on time, or maybe the highlight of your day is emptying the contents of the vending machine and taking more coffee breaks than usual. But there is a way back from this apathetic attitude…


  • Prepare a healthy lunch and snacks the night before. Try to eat nuts, salad, chicken, pulses and other protein-rich foods that will boost your energy and keep you alert.
  • Replace coffee with water or a vitamin-rich smoothie. This will keep you hydrated and help focus your mind.
  • Get up half an hour earlier so that you aren’t rushing around and have plenty of time to eat breakfast.
  • Get your clothes ready the night before and choose something that’s comfortable but also makes you feel good about yourself.
  • Take a full lunch break at work to help you re-energise. A short walk outside in the fresh air will also give you an energy boost and a daily dose of vitamin D. 

Don’t dwell on things

It may seem easier said than done to not dwell on misdemeanours in the workplace, especially when we fear our job may be at risk. But we need to remember that we are only human and mistakes do happen. When we overthink a situation, we can put a lot of pressure on our mental wellbeing, which can lead to stress and anxiety.


  • When we’re accountable for our actions, people are more likely to understand and forgive any mistakes we make. Burying your head or shifting the blame onto someone else will only make the situation worse and cause people to lose trust in you. 
  • If something's playing on your mind and causing you distress, speak to someone about it so you can gain a clearer perspective and act towards resolving the situation.
  • Take up a hobby or sport outside of work to focus your mind on something positive.
  • Remember each day is a new start.

Stop complaining

If you find yourself constantly complaining about the same things, it’s likely you need to take action. Negative thoughts are not only bad for our mental health, they can impact on our physical wellbeing, too.


  • Recognise recurring concerns and decide if it’s something you can improve or change. If it is, then make a list of steps you can take to make those changes.
  • Start looking for the positives – what do you enjoy about your job? 
  • Distract your thoughts with things that make you happy and make an effort to do more of them.
  • Speak with your boss about anything you find particularly stressful and find ways you could overcome this.

According to research undertaken by Mind, work is the biggest cause of stress in people’s lives so it’s vital that we find ways to be happier in our jobs.

Try to remember we always have a choice to make changes and although it may seem daunting to begin with, once you start to take action, you’ll feel more motivated and able to face challenges with a more positive attitude.