1 – Roles and responsibilities of the employer
‘Businesses that don’t take mental health seriously will not be successful……. the capabilities that companies require now centre more on innovation, communication & emotional intelligence than just the more straightforward requirements of strength, dexterity & intellect that characterised previous eras.’ Dr Paul Litchfield
In order to have a successful management of OMH (Occupational Mental Health) you need a full commitment throughout the organisation. This must start from the owners, the leaders, and managers of the whole organisation, and be filtered down to involve everyone.
Top management should identify, monitor and be aware of its roles and responsibilities in managing psychosocial risks. This should be backed up with organisational policies, procedures, and training to help create and nurture a positive inclusive culture for all.
Show leadership – don’t be afraid to address mental health in the workplace and encourage employees to reflect on their own mental health.
Psychosocial risk and promoting well-being at work- be open to discussing the impact that poor mental health can have in the workplace, not just to the individual but also to the team and the whole productivity of the organisation. Make it clear that the organisation is open to ideas on how to promote well being in the workplace from everyone.
Determine the resources needed and make them available in a timely and efficient manner- no matter what the size of the organisation, there are toolkits and resources that can support creating an inclusive workplace where employees can open up.
Receive feedback to determine the effectiveness of managing and preventing psychosocial risk within the OH&S management system- be open to feedback both positive and constructive to show and encourage an open discussion around mental health in the workplace
Involve employees in working groups, committees- without the support of the team at all levels, it doesn’t matter how many resources the employer uses. It must be noted that not all employees are going to be confident about saying they are struggling with their mental health, and so the use of working groups, or peers can help to start the conversation.
Support and encourage workers remove barriers that can limit worker participation- by being an open employer and showing that there are no barriers and creating peer and working groups and a safe space can encourage employees to start the conversation.
Protect workers from stigma, or negative impacts of reporting – make it clear to all employees that the organisation does not tolerate and will deal with situations where workers feel any negative impact from discussing mental health in the workplace.
Each organisation needs to consider having someone responsible for mental health in the workplace. They need to have the authority to create a policy for the organisation and ensure personnel are in place to support the employees. The authority must come from the top down, be clearly and visibly endorsed by top management. This person needs training to understand the factors within the workplace that can affect mental ill health, identify the signs and symptoms for a range of mental health conditions and be able to create an action plan to support employees, employer, and anyone else involved, in a non-judgemental manner.
Employers should also support ongoing consultation, participation, and engagement, with a view to getting employee input at all stages of planning and implementation. Active involvement of relevant interested parties is an important factor for the sustainable management of psychosocial risks in any organisation.
2 – Beating the stigma and creating a safe working environment
Studies have shown and as part of this European project research has been conducted that has shown that employees have thoughts that showing emotion within the workplace was seen as unprofessional and undermined an employee’s professional ability. In today’s world this misconception is being superseded, and the use of social and digital media is also providing a voice to employers and employees to support mental health wellbeing in the workplace.
Research has shown that stigma that still surrounds mental wellbeing prevent eight out of every ten employees reaching out for support. Therefore it is imperative that employers make sure that team members feel valued and supported in every aspect of their work life.
Employers do have an important role in destigmatising mental illnesses and support well being and positivity in the workplace. Many organisations do offer support for employees through creating a change in behaviour, but it is also extremely important to support creating the work ethos and culture where employees feel it is safe and comfortable to be able to discuss mental health in the workplace. It is essential that employees feel empowered to get the help that they need.
Ways in which employers can support reducing stigma in the workplace could be:
As an employer, model own mental health at work- lead by example and show employees that their health and your health is important.
As an employer, talk openly about mental health within the workplace- let others know when you may be anxious, or struggling with pressure. If employees can see that the managers and directors are talking openly about how they are feeling, it sends a clear message to all that discussions around challenges at work are welcomed. This can support a more creative and productive workplace as trust, and leadership is built with the teams.
As the employer, help to create an inclusive and supportive environment. Encourage an environment where all would feel comfortable to ask for help. It would be beneficial to be able to offer this environment to be able to take place in any format, such as face to face, video, email, phone etc. By creating platforms where people can openly discuss mental well being shows through communication channels that talking is not a sign of weakness.
As an employer, the terminology that is used, helps to create that safe, supportive environment. Ensuring that insensitive or inappropriate language is not used when referring to a colleague, helps to create an inclusive environment, and lessons how some may feel humiliated.
Within the workplace encourage campaigns around mental health awareness. It is not about telling employers or employees that they can diagnose or treat mental health issues, but about helping to break down the barriers to communication, offer support and awareness to educate us all within the workplace, and hopefully encourage some to maybe seek further support or help.
As the employer it is important that employees have easy access to mental health support. Larger organisations will be able to offer health plans but being able to offer tool kits and resources to any and all employees shows that the organisation cares about the mental well being of its employees and is not just making a symbolic gesture but showing that they are committed to supporting.
3 – The mental health continuum
The World Health Organisation stated that:
A state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to her or his community’
While much of our Mental Health experience comes from our personal lives, there are many risk factors for mental health that may be present in the working environment. Mental health at work is determined by the interaction between the working environment, the nature of the work and the individual.
Work has the potential to be beneficial for people’s mental health and well-being.
Work is an important determinant of self-esteem and identity. It can provide a sense of fulfilment and opportunities for social interaction. Being part of a team, achieving results, learning new skills, and solving problems are all aspects of work which can add to people’s sense of purpose and general life satisfaction, as well as providing their main source of income.
Mental health comprises of our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It determines our way of thinking, feeling, and acting. Also, it defines our resilience to stressful situations and our ability to make healthy choices. Most of all it is the key component to the way we connect with others while pursuing interpersonal relations. Mental Health is an essential part of our overall health at every age and phase of our lives. Not taking care of our mental health can have a negative impact on the quality of our life and in some cases can lead to disability and infirmity.
We all have mental health. Everyday factors such as workplace stress, lack of sleep, financial concerns and anxiety may impair our mental health still this does not mean that we suffer from mental illness. Poor mental health and mental illness are different concepts as a person can experience poor mental health and yet not being diagnosed with a mental illness. Similarly, a person who is diagnosed with a mental illness can experience periods of physical, mental, and social well-being.
The ‘Mental Health Continuum Model’ is a useful self-screening tool because you can monitor your mental health based on how you feel and practice self-care routines that can change your emotional stage. It is not static as you can be in a different zone at various moments in your life. It is a tool that everybody can use, and it is not developed for individuals with mental health illness.
Our mental wellbeing is constantly fluctuating, and we move up and down this continuum constantly, even within the same day.
There is a distress or stress and a quality of life or wellness continuum. One is what we are doing to manage stress and the second is what we are doing to optimize our quality of life and well-being such as routines and habits. We need to minimize stress and optimise our well-being.