Wellbeing at Work is a vast topic. There is a wealth of information and for any organisation just getting to grips with mental health support in the workplace, it can be difficult to know where to start. CIP is looking at this important topic in six parts across this year.
In Part 1, we focused on the importance of mentally healthy workplaces. In Part 2, we looked at organisation culture and workplace wellbeing. In Part 3, we looked at prioritising mental health at work.
The way employees are treated and managed on a day-to-day basis is central to their mental wellbeing and engagement, as well as the level of trust in the employment relationship.
The behaviours of line managers will, to a large degree:
- determine the extent to which employees will go the extra mile in their jobs;
- affect how resilient employees are under pressure;
- determine how loyal employees remain to their organisation.
Good line management can be crucial in supporting wellbeing, spotting early signs of distress and initiating early intervention, while poor line management may exacerbate or even cause mental health issues through an unhelpful approach or behaviour.
CIPD research in 2018 found that management style is the second main cause of work-related stress. Showing that how managers go about their role has a direct impact on people’s mental wellbeing.
All employers have a duty of care under health and safety legislation regarding the health, including mental health, of their employees. They are also required to comply with the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act, which seeks to prevent employees from being treated unfavourably on the grounds of disability including mental illness, which requires employers to make reasonable adjustments to working conditions so as to avoid putting disabled workers at a disadvantage.
Failure to meet these obligations may lead to compensation claims, including breach of contract. Recent court rulings have clarified the nature of these obligations and signalled, for example, that all employers should take preventative action to avoid workplace stress.
As a manager, encouraging your staff to draw up a Wellness Action Plan (WAP) gives them ownership of the practical steps needed to help them stay well at work or manage a mental health problem. It also opens up a dialogue between you and your team member, to help you better understand their needs and experiences and therefore better support their wellbeing. This in turn can lead to greater productivity, better performance and increased job satisfaction.
If your team member does experience a mental health problem, using the WAP you will have an idea of the tailored support that could help, or at the least a tool to use in starting that conversation.
For more details on WAPs, please see Mind’s Guide for Employees: Wellness Action Plans
Currently the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is having an impact on everyone’s lives. During this time, as a result of government guidance to work at home wherever possible employees may be bored, frustrated or lonely. They may also feel low, worried, anxious, or be concerned about their job security, health of both themselves and others. These are all common reactions to the difficult situation we currently face. As we emerge out of the pandemic the wellbeing of employees will again be at the forefront especially for those coming off furlough and returning to the workplace after long absences. The Government has produced Guidance for the public on the mental health and wellbeing aspects of coronavirus (COVID-19).
Most people will find strategies that work for them and for coping with the difficult feelings associated with the pandemic, however some people, especially those with pre-existing mental health problems, may need extra support.
It may be helpful to consider the concept of wellbeing in four key areas: mind, body, physical environment and cultural environment. These areas are interlinked.
- Mind: The sense of wellbeing is a product of the mind. Issues such as workload and deadlines can exert stress on the individual and conversely issues such as good relationships and support can improve a person’s feelings. Ultimately the overall sense of wellbeing is the balance of these factors.
- Body: the body and mind are inextricably linked. What affects one also impacts the other so issues such as diet and nutrition, fitness and physical activity all affect a person’s sense of wellbeing as well as their physical health.
- Physical environment: this includes access to natural daylight, comfortable temperatures, air quality, and also access to choices that encourage general health and wellbeing, such as food available in the canteen. Each of these can affect the sense of wellbeing both directly and indirectly through their impacts on the body and mind.
- Cultural environment: the values, tone, history and aspirations of a company have a huge impact on the people working for it.
To begin implementing wellbeing strategies into the workplace, it is a good idea to hold a session at a team meeting and ask staff members:
- for their thoughts on what a mentally healthy team looks like in terms of values and behaviours
- for their opinions on what the team does well to promote good mental health and how this can be built on
- to share what is currently impacting negatively on their mental wellbeing in the workplace
- to group these issues under the following headings:
- What do we have control over?
- What do we have influence over?
- What issues are beyond our control and influence?
For more ideas on how wellbeing can be implemented in the workplace, here are some points to consider…
Strategies for Line Managers
- Develop line managers ‘soft’ or ‘people’ skills
- Focus on the employee’s motivations through job satisfaction surveys and feedback forums (asking them what they are lacking in their role with the aim to supply it in the future)
- Develop a culture of respect, praise and appreciation
- Be clear about the goals and motivations of the project and company
- Make sure that facilities and welfare are of a good quality
- Help people find work that is engaging (has intrinsic satisfaction for them) through the employee appraisal system
- Make sure there are fair pay and good working conditions policies in place
- Promote life satisfaction outside of work (psychologists have found that people who are predisposed to be happy and satisfied in life in general are more likely to be happy and satisfied in their work)
- Ensure there is potential for career development and one-to-one discussions around career development
- Celebrate success at both the individual level (such as for work well done) and at the end of the project
- Support individual career development plans, as well as standard development schemes
- Support volunteering days and charity events, helping others is a powerful way of improving employee’s happiness and satisfaction with life
- Develop a flexible working policy. Defining what is meant by work-life balance and what they company would like to achieve.
- Improving flexibility. The ability to change start and end times at work could give staff space to fit in other commitments
- Plan shift work using the help of the Health and Safety Executive guidance on shift work (HSE, 2006)
- Limiting hours. Keeping workers generally within the WTR 1998 guidelines of 48 hours could even improve productivity, reduce accidents, improve absenteeism and presenteeism
- Training staff on how to spot the signs of stress. This could be part of the project and company induction
- Allowing flexible start times following night shift work
- Setting out expected standards on fatigue related issues such as maximum working hours and travel times
- Promoting and supporting home working
- Allowing mental health days and flexible working for attending family events
- Promoting volunteering days
Support System Strategies
- Develop a flexible working policy. Defining what is meant by work-life balance and what the company would like to achieve.
- Use relationship mapping tools (like mind maps) to better understand relationships at the project and personal level
- Train mental health first aiders for each project team
- Provide a mental health helpline for acute needs
- Provide access to longer term professional mental health support
- Have a policy that encourages open discussion and a buddy scheme for new starters
- Train staff on issues around fairness inclusion and respect, ethnic discrimination and mental illness
- Hold whole site social events to encourage a sense of teamworking across the project teams
- Create break out areas and encourage staff to turn off technology to help build social interaction and relationships at work
- Hold team building activities like football matches or ping pong tournaments
- Consider holding ‘school sports day’ stand down events, so family commitments can be honoured
- Hold lunchtime information sessions on coping with different issues like dealing with stress, how to handle strong emotions, returning to work, bereavement and loss
- Review the maternity and paternity policy
- Avoid interruptions – switch off phones, ensure colleagues can’t walk in and interrupt
- Ask simple, open, non-judgmental questions
- Avoid judgmental or patronising responses
- Speak calmly
- Maintain good eye contact
- Listen actively and carefully
- Encourage the employee to talk
- Show empathy and understanding
- Be prepared for some silences and be patient
- Focus on the person, not the problem
- Avoid making assumptions or being prescriptive
- Follow up in writing, especially agreed actions or support
Questions to ask:
- How are you doing at the moment?
- You seem to be a bit down/upset/under pressure/ frustrated / angry. Is everything okay?
- I’ve noticed you’ve been arriving late recently and I wondered if you’re okay?
- I’ve noticed the reports are late when they usually are not. Is everything okay?
- Is there anything I can do to help?
- What would you like to happen? How?
- What support do you think might help?
- Have you spoken to your GP or looked for help anywhere else?
Let us know what you are doing in your place of work to make good mental health a priority by getting in touch through our social media platforms.
Compiled from an article authored by Gemma Esprey, the Callsafe Services Mental Health First Aider, that first appeared in the June 2020 edition of Callsafe Today.