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 >

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