Wednesday 29 June 2016

Is your workplace mentally healthy?

Have you heard of sick building syndrome? It’s a condition that leads to people displaying physical symptoms – such as headache, nausea or physical aches and pains – when they spend time in a particular building, usually a place of work.

While sick building syndrome is widely reported, little has been written on the importance of ensuring a mentally healthy workplace. When at work there are a number of things that we should be doing to take care of ourselves and look out for others.

A recent study of 1,388 workers showed that just 1 in 3 employees felt comfortable discussing mental health issues with their employer. This figure decreases further in workers under the age of 24.

The biggest reason cited for non-disclosure of mental health problems is the fear that it will impact on their job prospects. This was followed by the worry they would not receive adequate support (30 per cent), concern their manager would not understand (28 per cent) and the fear it might make management think less of them (23 per cent).

The good news is that we all have the power to make our workplace more mentally healthy.

As an employee:

  • Don’t make mental health a taboo subject. Encourage people to talk about their workload, stressors, conflict with colleagues and how this makes them feel, just as they would any other illness or health issue.
  • Find out the ways in which your employer supports mental health conditions, make sure that colleagues are aware too, even if they don’t need help now – they may in the future.
  • Understand your legal responsibilities and make sure you reflect these in your work practices.

As an employer: 

  • Create a culture which encourages people to share their feelings at work 
  • Consider providing a confidential listening and advice service for employees 
  • Ensure occupational health colleagues are aware of mental wellbeing and how mental health problems can manifest themselves at work 
  • Provide mental health awareness training for all employees and additional support for managers 
  • Include health and wellbeing discussion as part of your performance management process 

If you – or any of your colleagues - feel that mental health issues are impacting on your work, be prepared to talk. There are a number of questions that an employer is entitled to ask in order to ascertain how best to support people at work. These could include:

  • What adjustments are needed in the workplace
  • What are the entitlements with regards to sick leave
  • Which medications are being taken (if, for example, equipment is being operated)

Any questions asked must be for ‘legitimate’ purposes, i.e. to check how it will impact on the job of the employee. All discussions around mental health, whether on the record or off, must be kept confidential.

Remember, mental health problems are more common that we realise and – with work often being cited as a major stressor – we all have a role to play in ensuring our workplaces are mentally healthy.

Find out how to reduce stress at work >

Wednesday 15 June 2016

Stress-busting support techniques to keep business booming

According to the Holmes and Rahe stress scale, issues relating to work account for eight out of 41 major life stressors.

It follows then, that if we can help employees to manage stress at work this will impact positively on their activities outside work too, which results in a happier, more productive workforce.

As you’d expect, men and women deal with stress differently. The first step towards easing stress at work is being able to identify when your employees are experiencing pressure.

It is unlikely that male colleagues will openly admit that their workload is too much, that they’re experiencing conflicting deadlines or that they’re having trouble with other colleagues. Cues to look out for would be if a male colleague starts to stay away from others; if they avoid certain situations – such as excuse themselves from meetings; or if they appear to anger more easily than before.

There are a number of stress busting techniques that can be adapted to use at work. These include deep breathing exercises, guided imagery, or meditation.

There are also a few practical exercises that employers can introduce to the workplace that help employees keep stress at bay.

Schedule setting

Taking time at the beginning of the week to review to-do lists is time well spent. Stress often comes from feeling overwhelmed and this starts when we have lots of tasks and obligations rolling around our minds without a place to settle. Encourage colleagues and team members to be realistic about what can be achieved in the work hours available.

Focus on what matters

Being realistic invariably means prioritising. We can’t do everything at once and trying to over-deliver usually impacts on the quality of our work. Employees need to be clear about the tasks that have to be done that week and the tasks that should be completed if time allows. Focussing on priority tasks helps people regain control, which reduces stress levels.

It’s good to talk

It can be difficult to share frustrations and anxiety at work with colleagues but the benefits of offloading problems onto someone else are well documented. If employees don’t have access to an independent listening or advice service, encourage them to call on their personal support network. A problem shared is a problem halved and even a two minute call can help put things in perspective.

Take five

Is the habit of working through lunch and tea breaks prevalent in your organisation? Studies show that rather than help us achieve more, a lack of regular breaks impacts on productivity. Just five minutes break is all we need to reset our body and reduce anxiety. Seriously, is anybody so indispensable that they can’t take five? Encourage colleagues to use their breaks as time to focus their thoughts, take in their surroundings or enjoy a bite to eat. Productivity is likely to improve and stress levels plummet as a result.

Just small changes to the way we approach our work can make a massive impact on our ability to deal with stress. The trick is finding out what works in your organisation and making it part of the work routine, where possible.

Find out more about mindfulness at work and how it can help reduce stress >

Wednesday 1 June 2016

Coping with change: mindfulness techniques to reduce stress at work

The only thing we can say with certainty is that nothing stays the same for long! Increasing workloads and expanding job roles can leave even the most committed colleague feeling overwhelmed or exhausted, from time to time. This can impact on the quality of the work delivered, which in turn increases stress and pressure at work. The reality is that none of us can change what happens around us, however we can change the way we deal with it.

Work is often described as being the third biggest cause of stress. By learning how to manage the stress experienced at work – using some simple mindfulness practices – life balance (and productivity) can soon be restored. 

Mindfulness at work 

The term mindfulness is not new. However people tend to link it with self-help behaviours like meditation rather than the benefits it can bring to people’s working lives. This is changing, with health experts starting to recognise the physical effects that mindfulness techniques have on the body. A study in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research has cited reduced blood pressure, and a reduction in chronic pain as some of the physical benefits of mindfulness. While mindfulness based stress reduction is said to help cancer patients. This is alongside the more widely reported upturn in emotional wellbeing.

Mindfulness is about training the mind to think about things differently. More often than not, life – and work - is defined by a range of routines, tasks and practices. When these are changed, for whatever reason (holiday, illness cover at work, increased workload), it can really knock us off kilter. By rewiring our brain to approach situations differently, we leave ourselves more alert, more open to change and more able to deal with stressful situations.

What happens when we rush?

Faced with more to do and the same time in which to do it, there’s a tendency to rush our way through work without the usual care and attention. Getting things done, rather than doing a good job feeds anxiety and heightens stress. Mistakes can be costly, but it’s not just that. Stress releases adrenaline into the body which becomes addictive. We then begin to rush things that are non-urgent just to get the same feeling. Unfortunately, what we lose in the process of rushing is clarity. Clarity goes hand in hand with good judgement. Mindfulness helps us keep focused on our purpose.

Letting go of what you can’t control

It's common to stress over things we simply can’t control. However, this also has a habit of taking us out of the present which impacts on our effectiveness, as well as our happiness. By being honest with ourselves about what we can control we can consciously free ourselves from those we can’t. Worrying about something – even if it’s non-articulated – uses up valuable energy, energy that could be spent on something constructive. It’s easy to let go of some things – like the price of petrol, or the weather – and still be aware of them. Others can be trickier, like what people think, how they feel, what they do. Mindfulness helps us focus energy on the activities we can influence. 

Exercise while you work…

All mindfulness exercises are a form of meditation. Meditation is the simple practice of breathing, or rather focusing on our breathing. When experiencing stress, we usually exhibit a number of physical cues. The trick is to recognise these cues early on – and use a mindfulness exercise to disperse the stress before it has really taken hold. Everyone’s cues will be different, but examples include irritability with colleagues, daydreaming or losing focus during meetings. 

Exercise one: it only takes a minute 

Find yourself a quiet space. Sit down, make yourself comfortable and turn off all distractions (PC, phone etc). And breathe… That’s it. In and out, calm and steady. Use all your senses to take in what’s around you. Be aware of how your body feels and how it relaxes with the simple practice of breathing. If it helps, place your hands on your abdomen so you can feel your breathing motion. When the minute is up, reinstate your PC and phone and continue on with the day.

Exercise two: savour the moment 

Starting each working day with a feeling of gratitude for what we have makes us less likely to hold on to negative/stress inducing thoughts. Tea-breaks and lunchtime are excellent opportunities to practice this exercise. For example, rather than drink your cuppa while going through work papers or scrolling through messages, take a couple of minutes to really appreciate what you are doing. How the drink smells as you pour it, the warm feeling as your hands hold the cup, the relief and enjoyment as you drink it. Go back to your emails – or whatever you’re doing – after you’ve finished and see just how focused you feel.

Exercise three: something new 

To keep in the present, take time to try something new. Your senses will be heightened and you will be more aware of what’s around you. This works particularly well in meetings. Sit in a different seat, write with a different coloured pen or pick up your water glass with your non-dominant hand. These small actions, although seemingly insignificant in themselves, go a long way to keeping your brain switched on, so that you remain present and can give your absolute best at work.

To find out more about keeping calm at work, read our previous post.

Have you booked a place on our FREE Mindfulness-Based Resilience workshop for HR professionals/people managers? Find out more and book your place today!