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Putting mental health on your workplace agenda

World Mental Health Day took place in October and for the first time, the focus was on the office environment – a sign businesses are openly recognising the link between mental wellbeing and the modern workplace.
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Unum, in partnership with The Mental Health Foundation, has produced its own research on this topic too. Our 2016 report, “Added value: Mental health as a workplace asset”, revealed by 2030 the challenges arising from staff mental health concerns could cost the UK economy £32.7bn.

Many companies are introducing and championing mental health strategies. Despite increased awareness, 42 per cent of those we surveyed with a mental health condition still don’t disclose this information to their work, because they fear stigma and discrimination.

But how can employers ensure mental health policies are not “just a tick in the box” and fully benefit all employees?

Be proactive from the start

A new whitepaper from Morneau Shepell centered around the concept of “cognitive hygiene”. It discusses the need for individuals to know how to effectively manage negative thinking through concepts such as mindfulness, meditation and good work/life balance to prevent exacerbating mental health issues.

Employers are encouraged to teach staff how to use sustainable actions to remind themselves to continue these practices on a daily basis. If followed regularly enough, arrangements such as setting an alarm to remind you not to stay late in the office or making sure you take a full lunch break away from your desk, can result in positive, long-term behaviour changes, which in turn, can enhance mental wellbeing.

Offering internal training such as Mental Health First Aid can give employees the tools to keep themselves and their colleagues healthy from the start too. There are many different sessions available and some third-party providers offer in-house training.

Make decisions based on the individual

The Financial Times’ Health at Work report shows ill health affects corporate productivity through employee absenteeism and presenteeism — when staff turn up to work but are ineffective when they get there. So to help combat such issues, companies should try to give managers the latitude to shape mental health policies according to the individual needs of their team members.

Promoting more flexible work schedules, such as allowing remote working during difficult periods or enabling employees to take time off for mental health issues, will mean individuals are able to continue their roles effectively when in the right frame of mind to do so.

As important as it is to prevent mental health issues from occurring, Walker stresses on the next page that those with existing problems need support as well

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