Emma Mamo: Making workplace wellbeing a priority

Emma Mamo 430

Creating mentally healthy workplaces has never been more important. Our latest YouGov poll in 2014 revealed over half of workers (56%) found their work very or fairly stressful. Given this high prevalence of workplace stress, mental health at work is an issue too big to ignore.

Putting in place initiatives to promote staff wellbeing shows staff that an organisation is a responsible employer that values their contribution and wellbeing. It also makes good business sense. Employers that look after their staff reap rewards in terms of increased staff morale, productivity and retention, as well as reduced sickness absence. Three-in-five people polled told us that if their employer took action to support staff mental wellbeing, they would feel more loyal, motivated and committed, and would be more likely to recommend their workplace as a good place to work.

Mind the gaps: the 2015 Deloitte millennial survey suggests that the things that employees value have changed. They found that millennials (those born in the 1980s and 1990s) who have been entering the job market throughout the early 21st century, place greater emphasis on a healthy work-life balance and a positive workplace culture, and are more likely to turn their back on their employer if these needs are not met. Workplace wellbeing initiatives such as employee assistance programmes and flexible-working hours are now common currency, so if an organisation is not offering these, there is a chance it could lose good personnel to another employer that does.

Before implementing any measures to boost staff wellbeing, it is advisable to conduct an anonymous staff survey to gain insight into the wellbeing and satisfaction of individual members of staff. If carried out regularly, be it annually or more frequently if necessary, surveys are hugely valuable in highlighting areas where an organisation is doing well and areas that need improvement. They can also show where existing policies and practice are not consistently applied.

Creating mentally healthy workplaces involves promoting wellbeing for all staff, tackling work-related mental health problems and supporting staff experiencing mental health problems. There are a number of practical ways employers can improve working conditions, which need not be costly. Small, inexpensive measures can make a huge difference. Wellness action plans are jointly drawn up by managers and staff, and identify what helps people stay well at work as well as specific symptoms, triggers and support needs and agreed solutions.

These person-centred, tailored plans can be very effective because they recognise the fluctuating nature of mental health problems and the way in which mental health affects everyone differently. Even more importantly, they can facilitate constructive and supportive conversations about managing mental ill-health. As well as putting in place initiatives, it is also really important staff know about them and are able to access them. In order to have an impact, they need to be easy to access and well publicised.

Employers should ensure every member of staff has clearly outlined roles and responsibilities, and that their workload is manageable and targets achievable. Regular communication between managers and line reports is important, particularly for staff working remotely and/or in isolation. Having frequent meetings creates the space for employees to discuss any issues they are facing and develop methods to tackle these problems. Supportive employers promote staff wellbeing and retention. The physical workspace is also hugely important, as lighting, temperature and greenery all play a role in how we feel.

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Thankfully, employers are becoming more conscious of workplace wellbeing. This is in part due to the positive impact of anti-stigma campaigns such as Time to Change, run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness. Over 350 organisations have demonstrated their commitment to supporting the wellbeing of their staff by signing the Time to Change organisational pledge. In recognition of some of the positive steps being made in this arena, Mind will soon be launching a Workplace Wellbeing Index, enabling employers to celebrate the good work they are doing to promote staff mental wellbeing and get the support they need to be able to do this even better, and encourage other organisations to follow suit.

Emma Mamo is head of workplace wellbeing at Mind