Top 10 Tips for... Dealing with mental health in the workplace
More people than ever before are likely to experience mental ill health at some point in their lives. Going to work, particularly if it’s a job we love, can have a positive impact on someone’s mental health because it can help build a sense of identify, a steady routine, opportunities to achieve and learn more and generate a source of income, which in turn stops people worrying to some extent about their finances.
However, according to research by mental health charity MIND, many employees feel concerned about raising the issue of feeling stressed at work with their employers. The survey by MIND showed that 30 per cent of staff agreed with the statement: “I would feel able to talk openly with my line manager if I was feeling stressed.”
But starting a conversation about stress at work need not be so difficult. Here are our top tips for dealing with stress in the workplace:
1. Think about the kind of job you want
We spend most of our lives at work – so ideally it should be something we find rewarding. Having a continual ‘Monday morning feeling’ can be stressful in itself. Figuring out what kind of work suits you best can help you feel better and more able to manage your mental health. You might want to think about how many hours you can and want to work, when you can work them, how long are you willing to commute and whether you prefer to work alone or within a team. Your boss may be able to offer you a flexible work plan to help you manage your mental health better.
2. Figure out what stress is
Stress is your body’s way of identifying and responding to a perceived threat or demand. It is our body’s defence mechanism kicking in when you sense any danger, real or imagined, and is a way of protecting you. Feeling a little stress can help you stay motivated and on your toes at work. But when it starts to take over, it can really damage your quality of life.
3. Figure out what makes you stressed
Everyone reacts to stress in their own way and has different triggers and warning signs. If you feel anxious or worried at work but can’t pinpoint exactly what the cause is, then why not keep a diary? You may find your stress is linked to a particular meeting, a colleague or client, regular deadlines or a specific role you undertake as part of your job. Or you may find that you need to manage your work/life balance better. Once you have a better idea what is stressing you out you can think about constructive ways of dealing with it.
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4. Make a plan
Once you know more about why you might be feeling stressed and what your triggers are – make a plan for you will deal with those stressful situations in future. For example, if deadlines stress you out, why not dedicate extra time in your diary to deal with any work you need to complete and find a quiet space you can concentrate and limit disruptions? If a particular client or customer is the source of your anxiety, then why not brainstorm ideas about how to deal with them more rationally?
5. Talk to someone you trust
The old saying, ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ is certainly true when it comes to talking about your mental health. If you’re feeling anxious or depressed about issues at work then sharing your worries with your manager, a trusted colleague, friend or your family can make you feel less alone. Talking about your feelings isn’t a sign of weakness – it’s the first step in taking charge of your mental health and wellbeing.
6. Manage your workload
If you feel anxious or stressed out beyond what you feel able to cope with, then listen to your gut because it may be a sign you need to rethink how you’re handling a situation. It may be that you need to say no to a new client, ask for extra support or stop working on something which is counterproductive.
7. Know your rights
Your employer has a duty to care for you properly while you’re at work, whether it’s your physical or mental health. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says employees have the right to work where risks to their health are properly controlled and are entitled to protection after returning to work from sickness absence if theybecome more vulnerable due to illness. Knowing how your employer should be supporting you can give you some confidence about working through any episodes of ill health.
8. Think about the positives, not the negatives
Looking on the bright side of life can feel incredibly hard when you’re feeling stressed and anxious. Simply advising someone who feels overwhelmed at work to ‘think positive’ can be enough to drive them further into despair and it can feel quite patronising. But support from your peers is incredibly important. Team up with people who you know have a positive attitude and the situations stressing you out will start to feel more like an exciting challenge rather than something unobtainable.
9. Review your working practices
If you own or manage a business then you should (legally and morally) be taking steps to protect your employees’ mental health. You should have a Mental Health Policy to reassure your employees that you care about their wellbeing. You also need to create an open and honest culture where people feel they can talk about mental health issues. You should continually review your working practices to ensure they promote good mental health. This could include reviewing job descriptions to ensure they set out clear and realistic expectations and encouraging staff to take breaks away from their desk.
10. Communicate your commitment to improving mental health
Mental health can feel like a taboo subject. But the first step in preventing yourself or others from feeling alienated can simply be creating ways for people to share how they feel. For example, you could use staff newsletters or other internal communication systems to raise awareness about mental health and how to seek help and support others. You could carry out regular staff surveys to check on the wellbeing of your workforce and feedback any good suggestions made to tackle mental ill health at work. You could appoint ‘mental health champions’ at work so people have someone to go to if they need it.
Julie Gordon is the Managing Director of cHRysos HR Solutions, a Doncaster based HR training and consultancy company providing CIPD and CMI accredited qualifications nationwide, as well as HR Consultancy to SMEs. Contact Julie on email@example.com or call +44 (0)1302 802128.