Mental Health at work: how you can help

October 10 sees World Mental Health Day, which aims to boost awareness of mental health, specifically advocacy against stigma through education and awareness-raising. This year the focus of WMHDAY is on ‘Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World’ – you can read the full report here.

WMHDAY defines ‘positive mental health’ as the ‘ability to cope with everyday life’. How many ‘positive mental health’ days have you had lately?

[Just so we’re all clear here…you may be thinking, “hang on, wasn’t there a Mental Health awareness thing a few months ago?” Indeed there was. Back in May it was Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, promoted by The Mental Health Foundation. Several NGOs now promote mental health and wellbeing; at the last count, there were 12 mental health and wellbeing awareness events in the UK. Time to Change helpfully publishes a Mental Health Calendar.]

Given the staggering stats – let’s start with mental health charity Mind’s new survey, in which almost half the 44,000 people surveyed have experienced mental health problems at work – I think we need this rolling calendar of awareness-building around mental health until serious progress is made. Still sceptical? Test your knowledge with this quiz from Time to Change.

Yes, of course some mental health problems need specialist support. But for many people at work, that’s the place where problems start – and where many can be solved or prevented. Writing in McKinsey Quarterly, Stanford Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer lays it out clearly in ’The overlooked essentials of employee wellbeing’.

Prof Pfeffer refers to two ‘essentials’: ’job control’ and ‘social support’. Job control is pretty self-explanatory and similar to ‘Drive’ author Dan Pink’s ‘Autonomy’. Pfeffer draws on the landmark ‘Whitehall studies’ conducted with UK civil servants, which correlated low job control and excessive managerial demands with increased coronary disease. Lower-ranking civil servants had shorter lives.

Studies in the US and Sweden link low job control with increased mental health problems. The evidence is clear: managers need to give people greater control over how they deliver what’s expected.

’Social support’ is about those close relationships beyond the workplace – family and good friends. There’s evidence that social support mitigates workplace stress. But as we’re all too aware, contemporary workplaces and tech-enabled ‘always on’ cultures can impede getting the social support that’s so badly needed.

If you’re a manager, here’s what you can do to help:

  • Give people greater autonomy to do the job their way, so long as they deliver what’s agreed.
  • Resist the temptation to micro-manage. Agree up-front when and how you’ll be involved and stick to that, unless you’re asked to help.
  • Ask more than you tell and give people the mic (rather than hogging it).
  • Learn the warning signs to watch out for.
  • Check out the updated ‘People Managers Guide to Mental Health’ from Mind and CIPD. A robust, readable must-have for managers, it includes practical tips for having a conversation, questions to ask and those to avoid. Highly recommended.
  • Encourage people to work reasonable hours, allowing time to spend with loved ones. Set an example.
  • Acknowledge that you may be part of the problem if one or some of your team is experiencing mental health problems and get advice on how to support people (and when you need to get others involved).

If you’re concerned about a colleague, here are some ways you can help:

You may find this post useful: ’Managing for mental wellbeing’

Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’ and ‘How to be Zoomly at work’.

Image source: Stress are we coping by the Mental Health Foundation

 

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