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Improving Mental Health in the Workplace

Lisa Anderson
Human Resource Specialist
Everest Group Limited
(March 2014)

Society is becoming increasingly aware of the impacts of poor mental health, and high profile campaigns have done a lot to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues. Furthermore, a growing number of businesses are tapping into the many support services available to help staff suffering anxiety disorders, addictions and depression. However, as a society we tend to consider mental health in a very reactive way, responding to issues once they have arisen rather than proactively seeking to improve mental health.

In the workplace, businesses have an obligation to provide employees with a healthy and safe work environment. However, good mental health also creates benefits around individual and team morale, presenteeism and performance. People with good mental health are more resilient to setbacks, emotionally demanding situations, psychological stress and challenges. So why then are businesses not doing more to promote good mental health?

Businesses have become increasingly comfortable with the concept of social responsibility around promoting improvements to the physical health of their team. There are many examples of businesses actively encouraging wellness, exercise and healthy eating initiatives; such as corporate sports teams and events, walk/bike to work initiatives, subsidised gym memberships, free flu jabs and healthy food in the staff cafeteria. Businesses should consider taking the same proactive approach to mental health in order to build greater resilience in their team;

1. Manage your Mind: Research shows that the most significant determinant to whether someone is more or less likely to suffer mental health problems in stressful situations is how that person thinks. People who are negative and overly inward in their thinking, who tend to blame themselves and constantly revisit their problems are much more likely to suffer mental health problems than those who think positively, are solution oriented and give themselves permission to move on. Cognitive coaching helps people manage their mind, and change the way they think, and is therefore one of the most effective tools in improving mental health. It’s said: Change your thinking, change your life. While cognitive coaching works best in a one on one coaching environment, and will of course be useful in dealing with acute cases, the concepts can also be delivered to a team, irrespective of their mental health position, as part of a workplace mental wellness initiative. Everyone can benefit from such an exercise and learn strategies to strengthen their own personal resilience.

2. Manage your Environment: Create a workplace culture where people are inclusive, caring and look out for each other. A sink or swim culture is inevitably going to suffer drowning’s and a culture of fear is going to create a high pressure environment that sets the scene for mental health problems. Changing a business culture involves changing its core values and ‘way of thinking’, so can be a slow and drawn out process which will take a lot more than ‘a quick speech by the manager’. To be successful, cultural change must be visibly championed by the business leaders and the new values must become part of everyday objectives and language within the workplace.

Proactively addressing mental health involves a journey for your whole team, requiring everyone to embrace the concepts of self-leadership, personal accountability and responsibility toward each other. However, it is also a journey well worth taking, to become more resilient to the challenges faced within both personal and professional lives.