When we are able to work, we spend a considerable chunk of time there. It can have a big impact on our mental health – both good and bad. Creating a supportive workplace culture is important. It’s not just the responsibility of the boss or line manager – it’s everyone’s responsibility.
That said, a supportive workplace culture isn’t a cure, we might still experience mental ill health and need some time away from work. Knowing though, that we have a supportive workplace to return to can help to make it easier to return to work after we’ve been off.
Set Healthy Boundaries
It can be really hard to set healthy work boundaries. This is where the culture is important – if everyone works through their lunch and it’s the norm to respond to emails outside of work hours, then it’s harder to assert our boundaries separating work and personal time. There’s often an expectation that people will respond and act on work-related tasks, out of their working hours, compromising personal time which can lead to burnout.
In 2017, a new bill was introduced in France which gave employees the right-to-disconnect. Other companies, such as VW, have put measures in place to help divide work and personal time. Companies are slowly realising the impact our work can have on our wellbeing, and vice versa.
Employers can lead by example, encourage downtime and put policies into place allowing people to switch off from work. What that looks like for different industries will vary, but being mindful of the expectations and demand placed on a workforce and using that information to make decisions which value the wellbeing of those we work with.
Make Taking Breaks The Norm
In many workplaces, it’s frowned upon to take our breaks, as though we’re more dedicated (or busy) when we don’t. We try to cram as much into our days as possible, always feeling as though we’re chasing our tails. But breaks are vitally important. It’s when we move away from work that a solution to a problem quite often presents itself. Stepping away from our work quite often offers us a differing perspective, the chance to theorise alternate approaches. If we have a desk job, then it’s the chance to stretch our legs and give our eyes a break from our computer screens. Breaks are when our brain has the chance to digest the day so far, they often increase our productivity and energise us, we’re better at our work when we take breaks than when we don’t.
Employers can check that breaks are being taken, and take their own – that leading by example thing again. They can allow for breaks and actively encourage them. Create a designated space where people can eat their lunch and have a drink, that’s away from their workstations.
We all have the right to request flexible working after working 26 weeks in a role.
Flexible working promotes balance. It acknowledges that employees have needs and offers flexibility surrounding the number of hours, where they’re worked and when. And the benefits aren’t just to employees, there’s a sound business case for it too.
It’s true that there are certain industries where flexible working might not be possible but in industries where it is possible, employers can be more open-minded to flexible working requests, trial it if in doubt, all the while measuring productivity and performance in order to monitor the impact.
Feedback is incredibly important within a workplace but it has to work both ways. Creating an environment where everyone is encouraged to discuss any work problems in an open and honest way, can help to problem-solve small issues before they snowball into bigger issues. It also adds to a feeling of connectivity and of working within a team.
That extends too, in allowing people to be people and to discuss their personal lives if they feel comfortable in doing so. The more supported we feel, the less lonely and isolated we feel. Being supported, emotional, mentally and physically, helps decrease stress, increase confidence, and helps us to feel part of a team.
Employers can encourage open communication, take part in it and ensure that employees are aware of all the benefits available to them, as well as who to talk to should they need to talk confidentially and privately. They can also check-in regularly with the team, fostering that ever-important feedback loop which provides a space for any questions, queries or quibbles to be discussed.
Understand The Signs
Understanding the signs and symptoms of depression, and other mental health conditions can help us to look out for one another. If we’re all aware of signs that things are less than okay for someone, then we can express empathy, understanding and support.
Employers can actively promote awareness and understanding of mental ill health. They can invest in materials, workshops, talks, and peer support.
Share The Nice Things
Many of us work in jobs where we get feedback from the people we’re serving. Creating a space within our workplace where people can share the nice bits of feedback we receive can help to lift our mood. It can also help us to feel valued, and to see that the work we do matters.
At Blurt, we have a dedicated #nicestuff Slack channel which is updated daily with the feedback we receive from emails, social media, the media and letters in the post. The #nicestuff is posted in the channel for the team to see – it’s gotten us all through some pretty tough times.
Employers might not use Slack but there might be a noticeboard, a team newsletter, an intranet or some other online communication tool that could be used. It’s important to share the positivity an organisation receives, it fosters confidence, passion and a sense that we make a difference.
Understand That Life Happens
Life happens, even the best-laid plans can get waylaid. The unpredictable nature of life means that sometimes we need to flex, tweak and prioritise our personal stuff.
Employers can be understanding, consider the situation from the employee’s perspective and show empathy and flexibility. Don’t give someone who is going through a hard time, a hard time.
If employers discriminate when hiring and promoting people, based on someone’s mental health, it can create a workplace which feels hostile to those who’re unwell. It promotes stigma within the workplace. It might make those of us who are unwell feel like we can’t or shouldn’t display symptoms or disclose our illness. This could worsen our mental health because it adds to the shame we so often already feel. People are different in lots of ways and that diversity always adds something valuable to the workplace.
Employers can stop discriminating and understand that those with experience of mental ill health bring with them amazing qualities too. Look beyond the diagnoses, the history and see the potential – we all have a lot of that.
Mental Health Days
Sometimes, life can get too much and we know we need to stop. Unfortunately, if we’re struggling on a work day, we often have to power on through until we can stop, ignoring warning signs that we’re already skating on thin ice where our well-being is concerned. Sometimes this can make things much worse so that rather than needing one day off, we need two or three. This can spiral until our mental health has deteriorated and we need a period of sick leave.
Having mental health days (which could go down as a day of sick leave) doesn’t mean that people within a workplace will never need any sick leave due to their mental health. But it might mean that we’re given the time and space to get on top of anything going on before it spirals.
We spend such a large proportion of time working, it’s natural that it can impact our wellbeing. Times are changing, cultures are shifting and we’re starting to look at people from a much more holistic viewpoint. Employers play such an important role in ensuring that there’s a healthy workplace culture. When we take care of the people who work for, and with us, we create a supportive environment for all aspects of the organisation to bloom.
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