Business MOT: Are you serving your workforce correctly?
With over 15 years leading workplace mental health, Chartered Psychologist, Dr Jan Smith explains why you should carry out regular revisions on the way you serve your workforce, and support them. You wouldn’t abandon your broken down car. So, why avoid to support your workforce?
There is an expectation that we will all become physically unwell at some point, and so we might eat healthily, take vitamins, or exercise as a way to ward off illness. When we feel poorly, we usually expect to take time from work, rest and recuperate. In your business, is the messaging around physical and mental health equitable?
There has long been a stigma surrounding mental health. In some places of work, mental health and support are a tick box exercise rather than a thread interwoven within each part of the business. This can have devastating consequences where individuals don’t recognise when their mental health might be deteriorating and what to do to address this. Below are some suggestions businesses can implement to support the mental health of their staff.
Recognising Signs of Mental Health
This is more than suggesting employees practice self-care or offering wellbeing days. It will be helpful that everyone within the organisation recognises the signs of mental health, in themselves and others. Psychological first aid training might be one way to ensure everyone across the business has this knowledge, with bi-annual refresher workshops. Having identified psychological first aiders that everyone is aware of will also be immensely useful again, that this isn’t a tick-box exercise. Instead, they have allocated time within their current role to address mental health in the workplace and champion ways to optimise employees’ mental health
Identify and Address Workplace Stressors
The pandemic has highlighted the significant impact our working lives can have on our mental health and wellbeing. Within businesses, there will be stressors that can compromise the mental health of their staff. These can be identified formally as part of HR’s role through questionnaires exploring this with staff. With the introduction of ISO 45003, Occupational health and safety management- Psychological health and safety at work- Guidelines for managing psychosocial risks guide managing psychological health and safety risks within an occupational health and safety management system. It addresses numerous areas that can affect workers’ psychological health, including excessive pressure, poor leadership, communication issues, and organisational culture. Businesses are ever-evolving places, and as such, it’s crucial that when any of these issues are identified, there is a clear plan for how they will be addressed, progress is measured, and this is communicated to the workforce.
Keep Having the Conversation
Understandably, some employers feel reluctant to talk about mental health because they don’t know how to manage the range of responses workers might provide. You aren’t there to ‘solve’ mental health difficulties staff might face. Instead, your role is to do all you can to prevent the work environment from negatively affecting their mental health and support them if need be. Don’t underestimate the power of providing a listening ear with openness and empathy. It can have a significant positive impact on anyone struggling. Also, make time to check in with staff. This doesn’t always have to be in a formal way. When you enquire, “how are you?” is this said as a greeting, or have you created time and space to hear how that person is feeling. At the beginning of each meeting, five or ten minutes can be set aside to check in how everyone is, or have regular times when you do this individually with staff.
Support and Signposting
The constantly reiterated message is that if you’re suffering from your mental health, reach out for support. While this is an important message, it negates a much bigger issue. If your mental health is deteriorating, it isn’t always possible for you to ‘reach out’. This can be for several reasons; embarrassment, stigma, not feeling safe, or shame. When shame or embarrassment is part of how we feel, we tend to retract from social support. Therefore, businesses need to reach in to others and connect with them. Organisations have an ethical responsibility to do this. Ensure that employees know where to go to access support, within the business and external. Also, consider an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) intended to support them in managing any difficulties they might be experiencing.
Compassionate leadership involves creating a culture where staff listen to one another with respect, empathy and encourages all team members to share their perspectives and support one another. Being a leader can be a challenging role, involving decision-making that disappoint others and having difficult conversations. The quality of these interactions should be with integrity and genuine enquiry. Leading with compassion enhances trust and loyalty and demonstrates to staff that they are valued and cared for, which positively affects their mental health and wellbeing.