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Mental Health in the Workplace

Interview with Andrew Berrie, MIND

As employees, and employers, constantly adapt and shift to fit business needs and economic markets, it is quite easy to forget about our mental health and the importance of maintaining it. We thought that spring would be a great time to chat with Andrew Berrie, head of Workplace Wellbeing at Mind, the mental health charity.

Andrew is the head of Workplace Wellbeing at Mind, the mental health charity. Responsible for Mind’s support for employers, Andrew is there to support people in work, and their employers to create mentally healthy workplaces.

“I oversee Mind’s workplace products and services and the creation of new guides and support resources such as Mind’s Wellness Action Plans.”

We wanted to know a bit more about best practice when it comes to mental health in the workplace, so we asked Andrew:

Could you talk about the importance of setting up good mental health practices?

Good mental health is vitally important in the workplace. The pandemic has had a significant impact on the wellbeing of the nation, and now more than ever people need support to keep them mentally well.

We spend a huge amount of time at work and it can and does have an impact on our mental health. Issues like stress, anxiety and depression are common in all workplaces, regardless of size or sector.

A Mind survey of 40,000 staff working across 114 organisations taking part in Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing Index (2020/21) revealed the impact that coronavirus has had on employees. Two in five (41 per cent) told us their mental health had worsened during the pandemic.

What’s more, the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) estimates that 41% of employees experienced mental health symptoms caused or worsened by work in 2020 (up from 36% in 2018) – so even before the pandemic mental health at work was an issue that needed addressing.

The Centre for Mental Health estimates 8.5 million adults will need support for anxiety, depression, PTSD and other mental health problems following the pandemic. This is equivalent to 1 in 5 of all adults in England and Wales. That is 1 in 5 employees who may need support in the workplace.

The scale of the issue and the need for support underscores the importance of setting up good mental health practices. Good practices are supportive of employee mental health and wellbeing, and for the employer its good for business. When you factor in the mental health toll of the pandemic and subsequent cost of living crisis, it’s clear that employers must invest in promoting and protecting the wellbeing of their staff.

What are the main causes of poor mental health within the workplace?

There are a number of causes of poor mental health at work. Setting aside issues from outside work that people bring with them, the impact of high workloads and high volume against deadlines is significant on workplace stress.

Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing Index demonstrates a clear correlation between the mental health of employees who have effective relationships with their line manager and those who do not.

As such, line managers need to ensure they are fostering effective, professional relationships with their line reports. Ensuring team members are clear of what is expected of them and supported in the delivery of their work.

Managers can also support employees with prioritisation – understanding what work is important or urgent, what work might be delayed or what work might be deliverable in a different format e.g. an abridged report.

Being empathetic and person-centred is key. Having one to one conversations with employees to understand how they best perform at work and how managers can best support them to excel. Our Wellness Action Plans – available for free from Mind’s website – can be a useful starting point to facilitate discussions between managers and their direct reports. 

In the world of enterprise, we see a lot of burn out or fatigue, is this common across employment and could you talk about some potential prevention methods? 

Burnout can be a significant problem in the workplace. It is a term used to describe a collection of experiences caused by long-term, unmanageable stress at work. Burnout can make people feel exhausted or unmotivated. People may start to feel distanced from or negative about their job. And they may worry that they’re not achieving enough at work. 

Addressing the root causes of workplace stress is key to prevention and developing a stress risk assessment an important first step. Employers with 5 or more employees also have a statutory duty to conduct and hold a written stress risk assessment. A large number of employers don’t realise this and HSE’s Working Minds campaign is currently seeking to raise understanding of this requirement amongst SMEs. On their website you’ll find a range of tools and sector specific articles on how to implement best practice in your organisation. 

Are there any tips you could provide small businesses and employers, to better look after staff wellbeing and mental health?

Looking after your employee’s mental health can seem like a daunting task, but supporting employee mental health and wellbeing doesn’t need to be complex or expensive. It can start with simple conversations:

Encourage people to talk – start by talking about general wellbeing, and let people know that they can talk to you if they need to. Remember everyone’s experience of mental health problems is different, so focus on the person, not the problem.

Avoid making assumptions – don’t try to guess what symptoms a co-worker might have and how these might affect their life or their ability to do their job – many people are able to manage their condition and perform their role to a high standard.

Respect confidentiality – remember mental health information is confidential and sensitive. Don’t pass on information unnecessarily – not least because this breach of trust could negatively impact someone’s mental health. 

Even if your employees don’t want to speak about their mental health at the time, you’ve still let them know you care and you’re there for them when the time is right.

Mind’s Wellness Action Plans – available for free from our website – can help facilitate discussions between managers and their direct reports. You can find further information and guidance for small employers in our guide Mental Health at Work for Small Businesses produced in partnership with FSB. 

Anxiety and panic attacks are becoming more common among people in day to day situations, has there been a rise in workplace specific cases?

In 2021/22 HSE reported 914,000 workers suffering from work-related, stress, depression or anxiety. This made up 51% of all new and long-standing cases of work-related ill health and 17 million working days are thought to be lost as a result. These results were an increase on the previous two years and a marked increase on the years prior to the pandemic, which had already been an increasing trend.

There are a number of reasons why employees might be experiencing anxiety at work. They might have anxieties around their physical safety or social distancing in the office, particularly in the winter months when there might be increasing cases of flu or the coronavirus. In the current environment, they might have anxieties around their finances and the costs of their commute or social activities that might be expected of them by colleagues. If working from home or working hybrid, they might have concerns around their personal development and progression, or the extent to which they are consulted on change in the workplace.

Everyone’s experiences are individual, so line managers should look to ensure they have regular conversations around wellbeing as part of regular catch ups or one to ones and look to best support any anxieties an employee might have, for example, by discussing options for working from home if anxious around social distancing.

Mental Health and wellbeing is, and should have always been, really important for everyone to be aware of, but do you think that these areas will be focused on more with the current economic climate?

Deloitte’s Mental Health and Employer report showed a third (31%) have greater expectations of employer support than they did prior to the pandemic. In the current climate, where unemployment is low and demand for talent is high, having a strong support offer for employee mental health and wellbeing is also good for your brand and your attractiveness in a competitive employment market.

City Mental Health Alliance’s Time to Act Report has found that nine in 10 young professionals say that employers have a responsibility to support the positive mental health and wellbeing of their people. 47% said that one of the most “important things” they would look for in a future employer is whether it would prioritise mental health.

As the world moves to a hybrid work from home and office work approach, I wonder if there is a correlation between preference to work at home and the rise in stress and anxiety?

It is probably too early to tell whether there is a link between remote working and increasing levels of stress, and we have heard differing opinions from the people we speak to.

We’ve heard from many employees struggling with working remotely, especially those who previously were always based in an office. Working from home can make it harder to get a work/life balance or increased strain on relationships at home. However, others have loved working from home all the time or more than previously because it meant they could ditch a lengthy expensive, or stressful commute.

Many employers have moved to a hybrid model of working whereby staff split their time between the office and their home, but once again this is another change to routine which requires employers to carefully implement, regularly communicate and listen to staff feedback.

Regardless of the working model, employers and line managers need to set clear expectations for their employees, communicate new ways of working with clarity and ensure that employee support remains available and easily accessible. We want all employers to offer flexibility to their staff so that they can fit existing commitments around their work.

Being able to learn so much about workplace mental health, best practices and top tips for avoiding burn out, stress and anxiety, has been really valuable. In the world of enterprise, as with any other industry, it is really important that we are aware of our mental health. Being aware of our own mental health can assist us in helping ourselves in times of stress, anxiety or upset.

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