January – the month when your staff are most likely to hand in their notice. But what can you do to help them, and prevent this from happening? The third Monday of January, dubbed ‘Blue Monday’, is a day in which many are often more down. Pay day still feels like a lifetime off, and the blues have well and truly set-in. Leading chartered psychologist specialising in workplace mental health and founder of ‘Healthy You’, Dr Jan Smith, explains what you need to have in place to support the mental wellbeing of your staff in the workplace.
Like physical health, everyone has a mental health status. The difference is, particularly at this time of year, where we might expect to get a cold or feel a little run down, the same cannot be said about our mental health. We hold many narratives about mental health and our relationship with it, and these might not even belong to us. Instead, they might have been acquired from our family, friends, or the society we live in.
You hold power regardless of whether you own a large organisation with thousands of employees or just a handful of them. This power can be used to create a workplace that optimises the mental health of its workforce. Most organisations know that employees who feel valued and fulfilled in their roles will be more creative, energised, and the best they can be. Yet, this is not the case for many staff; instead, they are demotivated, burned out, and overly stressed. Whether this is the case for the people you employ, you can implement many things to improve mental health in the workplace.
Knowing Your People
As a business owner, you need to be aware of the workplace factors that contribute to the mental health and wellbeing of your employees. These are known as psychosocial work hazards. Every organisation will have them, and it is essential to understand what these are specifically for your business. These can be identified through surveys and measures or consultation groups where staff can give feedback openly. However, this latter option can be off-putting for some individuals because it is not anonymous, and they might not feel comfortable. When the data has been collated, you must implement ways to lessen or eliminate the hazards and communicate these to the staff team. Not making changes in response to staff feedback means they will lose trust in you, feel more devalued, and the work hazards contributing to poor mental health will continue. Consequently, there will be higher sick absences and turnover of staff.
Having a Safe Culture
Safety in this context means psychologically safe when staff believe they can share ideas, opinions, mistakes made, and questions. When they do this, others will not belittle, punish or reject them for speaking up. As a business owner, assessing your organisation’s psychological safety level should be an ongoing priority because businesses constantly evolve with staff changes, develop new products, and expand. Employees need to feel able to take an interpersonal risk to speak up when they don’t know the outcome. Your role as the leader will be to encourage staff to share and model respect and openness, particularly when they have been vulnerable or admitted a mistake. When people feel humiliated or ashamed, or observed this is how colleagues have been made to feel when they shared; self-protection won’t be a choice but rather a necessity.
Embed Mental Health into Your Business
Having a culture of optimising and supporting the mental health of your workforce is more than having posters up or holding a coffee morning. This starts in the recruitment process, where potential employees are not discriminated against because of their mental health. Rather, inclusivity, diversity, and equality are the thread that runs through each part of your business. Suppose this is something you feel unsure how to embed in your organisation. In that case, many reputable consultants offer this advice and guidance to ensure that it is enshrined in policy and practice.
Take a moment and reflect on how your team discusses mental health challenges, either for themselves or others and the tone and language used during these discussions. If they are framed as office “banter,” how is this addressed. It is not just words used but also the actions of the business. For example, rather than responding when someone’s mental health deteriorates, you can positively promote ways to address their mental health. So, there is an expectation for all employees that you both will look after their mental health and wellbeing. This might be offering staff a day off, which they can use to enhance their mental health, encouraging them to use it in any way that will support them. Your leadership will be critical in modelling what is acceptable or not in this context.
Some larger organisations have a peer-to-peer programme that has been instrumental in beginning a conversation about mental health, managing associated stigma, and supporting colleagues. Peer-to-peer programmes are run by employees of the organisation, trained to provide an empathic listening space and signpost on to relevant services if necessary. We have supported many businesses to create these, and they have been significant in optimising the mental health of workforces.
As the owner of your business, you will have a crucial role in creating a culture that embraces the diversity of your employees’ backgrounds. To do this will require you to connect with your stereotypes and prejudices relating to mental health. Also, what do you need to do to overcome these? This might be worked through with a coach or by attending developmental workshops, which create safe spaces for you to explore the prejudices and stereotypes held. Each person has different ones; it is part of being human. However, in the absence of not understanding and addressing them, we move away from being inclusive to all. We continue to hold and play out biases, which will hurt those we are leading.
Signpost to Resources
A range of organisations are available to support those impacted by mental health challenges, either directly or indirectly. It is worthwhile getting to know what some of these are, so you can support any of your employees and signpost them when needed.