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Mental Health Awareness Day: Combating the stigma around mental health in the workplace

2020 has been challenging for everyone. The world is experiencing the unprecedented impact of the current global health emergency due to COVID-19. Over a million people have died worldwide and our daily lives have been disrupted in more ways than we could ever have imagined. Opening the conversation around mental health and removing the stigma has never been more paramount.

Levels of anxiety, fear, isolation, emotional distress have become widespread as the world struggles to control the virus and continues to adapt to the uncertainty. Being mentally healthy is just as important as our physical health. It doesn’t always stay the same and it can change depending on our circumstances or where we are at in our lives.

Mental health problems are one of the leading causes of sickness absence in the workplace. A staggering 70 million work days are lost each year due to mental health problems in the UK, costing employers approximately £2.4 billion per year (Mental health Foundation).

This Saturday is World Mental Health Day and the theme for this year’s campaign is ‘Mental Health For All’. In light of this, we are reflecting around how we create a safe space in the workplace to tackle mental health?

workload stress

Creating safe spaces and breaking the stigma centered around mental health

The workplace is one of the most important places to discuss mental health, yet it often goes unspoken about between colleagues. According to The Mental Health at Work 2019 Report just 51% of workers feel comfortable talking generally in the workplace about mental health issues. Despite many businesses now offering mental health support, employees still experience barriers including: confidentiality and privacy concerns, receiving judgement from colleagues, and losing their jobs.

Open conversations about mental health in the workplace is central to our core values. The ability to provide a safe space to have authentic conversations about mental health, both individually and strategically, is fundamental to how we operate. As we begin to recover from the impact of the pandemic this is more important than ever to keep that dialogue open.

Part of our work to reduce the stigma centered around mental health and keep that conversation open, is celebrating and bringing to light important events such as this years ‘World Mental Health Day’. Focusing our attention to these important campaigns creates an environment for employees to talk openly about mental health from both an objective point of view, but also about personal struggles.

Creating an environment in which people can openly express and discuss mental health issues, without the fear of stigma or judgement, is absolutely fundamental not only to a healthy work place, but to a thriving work force outside the office walls. We strive to create an inclusive, trusting team, through our open door sessions, regular catch ups and lunch (virtual) meetings. For too long, parts of our society have done little to recognise and combat the impacts of mental health, but this is changing and that’s great to see.

Nicola Thorn, CEO

Maintaining work-life balance through a flexible working approach

Maintaining a work-life balance is fundamental to avoiding work performance suffering and mental health problems arising.  The Mental Health Foundation  reported that more than 40% of employees neglect other aspects of their life because of work, which may increase their vulnerability to mental health problems. Out of the employees interviewed 34% reported feeling anxious and 27% felt depressed due to long working hours.  According to The Workplace Stress Study 2019 the greatest primary cause of stress in the workplace is workload, disrupting work-life balance and well-being of staff.

Despite this, The 2020 UK Workplace Stress Survey showed that, prolonged working hours is now the 7th most common cause of work-related stress compared to being 1st in 2018. Highlighting that many organisation’s are becoming aware of the impacts of long days on employees and are putting measures in place to combat the problem – however there is still progress to be made.

Achieving a work-life balance and promoting a flexible working environment that is inclusive of all employees is key AND. Regular audits of the working environment allow us to identify elements of practice, policy and culture that could be changed. Like many businesses, we had to adapt to working remotely in response to the pandemic. Productivity remained high and due to its success; we are continuing to implement this for staff. In some cases, working from home means employees can maintain a better work-life balance, positively impacting health and well-being – this is particularly true for those who commute.

In terms of workload, AND has been super supportive. Currently, I’m at university which I have to schedule my work around, and the company has always put my University work first. I’ve been given flexibility in not only when I work, but how much. If a heavy piece of coursework is due in I know that all I have to do is message someone and I can drop my hours to focus on it, and that’s such a reassuring system to have.

Joseph Thomas, Engineer

Regular open-door sessions between employees and managers create a culture of openness and strengthen our team communication. These informal chats provide a safe space and an opportunity for any concerns to be openly discussed, including work-load, working hours, progress, and training opportunities. For management, it’s a time to understand what processes are working and what needs to be changed to increase staff well-being.

Visibility across the entire workforce is another important part of our successful approach to managing workload. We implement agile methodology to manage work efficiently, this includes using simple web-based tools, such as Trello, to visualise work and track progress across the company. Hosting daily progress meetings also provides visibility across entire projects and allows staff to raise problems that are hindering workflow so that there aren’t problems later down the line.

Mental well-being of all staff has always been a priority, particularly creating a safe space to make mistakes, achieving a work-life balance and managing workload. It’s important that staff who need flexibility are given it. Everyone works differently and by understanding people’s different rhythms of work and personal goals appropriate work and contracted hours can be suited to that individual. When taking a flexible approach to working the health of the company is also important – it’s all about balance.

Valerie Lynch, Chairman