Openness around mental health and wellbeing in workplace key for modern businesses

Employment & Skills | Reports | South West | Sponsored

Recent research has revealed that almost 15% of working adults experience mental health problems in the workplace, but only half of them have disclosed the problem at work.

Around 12.7% of all sickness absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions, and it has been estimated that better mental health support in the workplace can save UK businesses up to £8bn per year.

Recent studies have also shown a rise in work suicides and linked these to a generalised deterioration of working conditions, including unmanageable workloads and increased job insecurity.

Bristol-based facilities management company Almeda is putting measures in place to increase its commitment to mental health in the workplace and employee wellbeing.

Chris Cox, Almeda’s Facilities Contract Manager, has recently become the company’s Health and Wellbeing Champion, and the plan is to increase staff awareness of mental health and to create a culture that nurtures it.

Chris explained: “Mental health is something I am passionate about for Almeda, having dealt with it with family and friends over the years, and last year I enrolled on a mental health first aid course.

“I think we need to be very aware that we can all feel our lives are travelling at a thousand miles an hour, not just at Almeda, and with stress levels going through the roof we really need to be aware of how we tackle it as a business.

“Most people think mental health is severe mental illness such as schizophrenia, but it can be anxiety at work, general stress, loneliness, and I think we need to be mindful as a company that mental health is not one size fits all.”

Chris got together with Almeda’s Managing Director Brady George to come up with some ideas on how to tackle the issue.

The company is hoping to have some workshops around mental health and health and wellbeing days, a boot camp for physical fitness, and welcome speakers on things such as mindfulness and meditation.

“I’ve been talking with Brady and it’s something that we started at the beginning of the year, so it’s still very much in its infancy,” said Chris.

“The one thing we don’t want it to be is a ‘tick-boxing’ exercise; we want it to actually mean something to Almeda, for it to be bespoke for the people that work for us.

“We have a range of employees in the company, from office and finance staff to engineers, and it’s important that this fits around them. Some of our engineers might think mindfulness is not for them, so we must look at ways to make it accessible for them.

“In many ways, it’s a lot easier within the office but finding the right things for the guys on the road will be a challenge.”

There are many reasons why people do not disclose a mental health problem at work, including fear of being discriminated against, a lack of guidance and support, a feeling of shame and the worry that they would be unable to continue in their job due to contractual regulations.

And, according to Chris, encouraging a culture of openness around mental health and wellbeing in the workplace is key.

“Around one in four of us will suffer some form of mental health in our lives and we tend to suffer in silence a lot of the time,” said Chris.

“It’s the British trait of keeping a stiff upper lip, and men, in particular, are famous for not talking about things and being open about any problems they may be having.

“We are looking at taking some time out once a month and myself being on hand to give people that time, as a drop in. I’m not a professional but it’s being able to give people that voice to be comfortable and talk in confidence.

“It could be as simple as just having a cup of coffee with someone, asking are they okay, and people being able to say, ‘do you know what, I’m struggling a bit.”

Brady George said: “Working conditions and the working environment can have a huge impact on mental health and, equally, someone’s mental health can have a significant impact to perform well in their job.

“So, for us, it’s about outlining standards of acceptable behaviour and ensuring that everybody knows where to go for support within Almeda.

“As business leaders, we have a duty to educate both ourselves and our staff about mental health and there are a variety of resources and training courses available.”

Brady regularly funds social occasions, and he recently organised taster facials for staff, turning a meeting room into a temporary salon.

“Recognition and reward can have a beneficial effect on staff and help them feel valued, while social events can help turn colleagues into friends which can help when you’re struggling mentally in the workplace,” explained Brady.

Almeda’s two Charities of the Year are Help Bristol’s Homeless and LinkAge, both of which are linked to mental health, although for completely different reasons, and Brady added: “The company’s support for charities can also have a beneficial effect on staff wellbeing as they feel like they’re helping people and the community.”

Mental Health Awareness Week, hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, will take place from May 13-19, while National Mental Health Day will take place on Thursday, October 10.

For more information on Almeda and the services they offer, visit http://www.almeda.co.uk/ or telephone 0117 937 6320.

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