Nice work if you can get it

6 November 2013

For millions of us a good deal of our waking hours are spent at work, with the rest of the time often divided between travelling to work and worrying about work. Some of us even manage to fit some time to sleep into our hectic schedules. It’s no wonder, then, that mental health in the workplace is becoming an increasingly pressing issue.

Indeed, results from a recent survey, carried out by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, have suggested that poor mental health in the workplace is on the rise. 2 in 5 reported that stress-related absence had increased over the past year for the workforce as a whole and a further 40% of organisations reported an increase in reported mental health problems (like anxiety and depression) among employees in the past 12 months. Promisingly, the survey found that most organisations offer one or more initiatives to support employees with mental health problems.

We know that work has a really important role in promoting mental wellbeing and is a key factor in self-esteem and identity. We also know that the recent financial downturn has caused upheaval in both employment and in public services. This, inevitably, has had a knock on effect on public health and mental health both directly through job loss, and indirectly in terms of changes to lifestyle and healthcare access.

The extent of the problem cannot be underestimated. The Labour Force Survey for 2011/12 reported that stress, depression or anxiety disorders accounted for 10.4 million working days lost that year. Important to note, then, that this is a financial issue as well as health issue. This is why organisations are becoming increasingly wise to the benefits in looking after their employees’ mental health – a healthy workforce means a productive workforce.

Fortunately, there are many ways in which employers can support their workers. The first and most basic thing is good management. Having good supervision, clear goals, appraisal, and staff development are key things that some take for granted, but which can set the tone for supporting people at work.

Making time for activities in or around work, such as walks, lunches together, or sponsorship for fundraising activities or exercise like gym memberships are things many employers already do and which have an effect on people’s mental health.

When it comes to suppoting people with workplace adjustments, the things you can do to support someone having a tough time are simple, and often cost far less than having someone on sick leave, or having to recruit a replacement for a person who leaves.  Flexible working hours, employee assistance programmes, mindfulness and relaxation sessions can all help to improve the wellbeing and productivity of employees across the organisation.

It can be useful to conduct stress audits across the organisation to address pinch points which can be addressed with training and adaptations to management.  At the same time, people can be supported to address stress and work-life balance as part of personal development plans put together as part of appraisals and supervision.

Find out more about redressing your work-life balance.