HR & Management

Mind control: We often don't take the time to consider our wellbeing

10 min read

06 October 2017

Employees are more aware than ever of the personal and professional wellbeing benefits of a good work-life balance, and employers are seeing the improvements to retention, productivity and the morale of staff.

Approximately one in four Brits experience a mental health problem each year, with one in six experiencing the likes of anxiety and depression in any given week. These stats were rounded up by, which highlighted the serious nature of looking after one’s wellbeing.

“The overall number of people with mental health problems has not changed significantly in recent years, but worries about things like money, jobs and benefits can make it harder for people to cope,” it explained. “How people cope with mental health problems is getting worse though as the number of people who self-harm or have suicidal thoughts is increasing.”

Employers thus have an important role to play in addressing staff wellbeing and supporting them through tough times, Martin O’Rourke, commercial director at Birchwood Park, told Real Business, unveiling his thoughts on the issue.

What do you believe are the benefits of investing in employees’ health and wellbeing?

Health and wellbeing is becoming a prominent factor in recruitment, so having quality initiatives in place can provide that head start in the race for best talent. Employees are more aware than ever of the personal and professional benefits of a good work-life balance, and employers are seeing the improvements to retention, productivity and the morale of staff. It’s a win-win!

Tell us more about the park’s “expect more” ethos and how it relates to mental health.

At Birchwood Park we’ve done everything we can to create a healthy working environment for any size of business, from SMEs and startups to global corporates. We’ve encompassed everything from landscaped surroundings, to well-connected transport links, an on-site gym and a nursery, as well as activities including lunchtime walks, movie nights and yoga sessions that all help to create a real community feel. It’s about making businesses and employees feel like part of more than just the four office walls.

If money was no object, what health and wellbeing perks/schemes would you advocate employers have in place?

Number one has to be flexible working. Co-working spaces and flexible hours or locations provide employees with more options about the way they work and alleviate some of the stresses of daily life. It’s management’s job to lead by example where flexible working is concerned, and this can easily be done through simple actions like leaving the desk for lunch.

Another worthwhile investment is the connectivity of the workplace – it goes without saying that an easy commute makes an easy life. Rush hour traffic, crowded trains and struggling to find a parking space are continually linked to feelings of stress and dread. Situating offices in well-connected, convenient areas can make all the difference to staff.

How would you advise SME bosses address staff mental health?

Whilst there might not be the resource for dedicated wellbeing panels and large HR departments, there are still opportunities to prioritise employee happiness and sound mental health as a driver for productivity and general wellbeing. For example, activities like yoga and mindfulness can have a real impact on the wellness of staff. Even if it’s tricky to implement group classes there are now alternatives, such as apps that allow employees to practise these activities at their desks or in a quiet space.

At Birchwood Park we have a quiet room and weekly visiting MiTE Business Chaplain who is there to provide a listening ear and support to people of all faiths or none. The most important advice I would give though is to listen to staff and really understand what it is that will make a difference to their wellbeing. This can be easily achieved through initiatives like staff surveys or open suggestion forums.

In what ways can companies adapt more to employee lifestyle?

I mentioned earlier how much value I see in flexible working, and it’s encouraging to see a growing trend of businesses becoming more adaptable to employees’ lives. Whether that comes in the form of adapting start and finish times to suit school runs or avoid rush hour, allowing for breaks that accommodate gym timetables, or giving the option to work from home.

And, of course, working requirements changes over time, from young children school pickups and exam pressures, to looking after elderly parents. it’s about recognising that no two people are the same, and that individuals have different needs both inside and outside of work.

The office environment can alter wellbeing, O’Rourke explains on the next page

How important is the office environment to mental health?

It’s often the case that employees will spend the majority of their waking hours in the office, so it’s no surprise the environment has a significant effect on their health. We’ve seen the huge benefits of natural light to the workplace at Birchwood Park, and beyond that how access to nature can provide the perfect break from the office. The benefits of fresh air and a change of environment to mental wellbeing cannot be underestimated!

Do you believe that mental health as a taboo subject persists?

There’s definitely still work to be done, but it is a subject that is understandably difficult for people to talk openly about it. It’s important for companies to ensure the right tools are in place for employees to manage their mental wellbeing. It’s also vital that more is done to encourage open and honest discussions so that employers and employees recognise mental wellbeing with the same respect as physical wellbeing.

Is it often the case that people don’t realise what their own mental health situation is?

With busy work and home lives I think it’s fair to say many of us do not take the time to consider our mental health and wellbeing. I recently saw a statistic from mental health charity, Mind, that said as many as one in four people will experience a mental health problem each year, so I think it is more important than ever employers take the time to think about their approach to mental health in the workplace.

How do you unwind after a tough week and do you have any rituals to improve your own mental health?

Weekends mean family time to me – we always try to get out and do something in the outdoors if the weather is good. We’re very lucky in the North West with the access we have to beautiful walks, whether it’s along the beach, at a nature reserve or up in the Lake District, so I love making the most of that. Now that my son is a little older, much of my spare time in the summer is spent playing cricket together – much to his annoyance I am better than him!

During the week, I regularly attend the yoga classes we run onsite at Birchwood Park, which forces me to take a break from the busy working day and put it all into perspective. I always find after a class I’m much more productive in my work, so I try and go as often as I can. If I notice myself losing focus or feeling stressed and I don’t have the time for an exercise class I make sure I get outdoors for a quick walk around the lake to take in some fresh air, or I’ll go and have a chat with Greta and Margaret who work at The Centre, our business and leisure hub.