Mental Health in the workplace – why we need a culture change, not just a few new procedures

Covid-19 | Covid-19 Advice | Employment & Skills | Reports

Stressed woman

Holly Sorensen, Finance Manager at Armadillo shares her thoughts with Business Leader on the importance of culture change this Mental Health Week.

After the year or so we’ve all had, the mental wellbeing of employees is increasingly concerning. As human beings, our state of mental health is always in fluctuation but the pandemic and consequent lockdowns, working from home and home schooling have all had a serious impact on mental wellbeing across the globe.

The statistics are shocking. According to the Nuffield Trust, at any time, one in six adults has a mental health condition and one in 100 has a severe mental illness.

The reality is that one could be anyone.

Including your employees or members of your team.

The pandemic has exacerbated our everyday stressors and concerns. Loneliness, in particular, has become a big issue as we’ve been separated from our loved ones and colleagues and asked to work from home. It’s becoming increasingly evident that we won’t necessarily be returning to the office life we knew before, and while there are of course a number of benefits to home working, there are plenty of people out there who are struggling with the change.

With the introduction of this new normal, it’s not enough for businesses to simply throw in a few new procedures and call the job done. It’s time to change the culture completely and destroy the taboo surrounding metal ill-health. Businesses owe it to their employees to take responsibility for its role in their wellbeing. And you, as an employee, owe it to your colleagues to ensure no one suffers in silence.

So how can you ensure that? 

  • Creating an open culture

It starts with the culture. Have you created a safe and supportive environment for your employees and colleagues? Have you made it clear, leading by example, that mental wellbeing is a priority? Have you provided channels of support or steps that can be taken by any employee who may be struggling, and do you promote a positive and supportive digital culture?

It’s important to strive towards an environment in which any member of the team feels comfortable coming forward with their concerns and sharing their feelings. This starts with being willing to share your own and being honest about your own difficulties.

Equally, you can’t always expect others to come to you. You must make it a priority to check in with employees and colleagues proactively. Working from home can be isolating and it’s not as easy to get a sense when something may be wrong. While you may notice a colleague looking a bit down or stressed grabbing a coffee in the breakroom, it’s much less likely you’ll notice the same subtleties during an online meeting. Make time to chat on an informal basis. It will be just as crucial to the success of your business as any other meeting, if not more so.

  • Crisis prevention

Normalise dealing with poor mental health before it reaches crisis point. Make mention of the mental health support available part of the everyday conversation and put an emphasis on the normalcy of asking for help. At Armadillo we provide a dedicated employee assistance programme through Health Assured. They provide both emotional and practical support through qualified and experienced counsellors and legal advisors. Not only do they offer 24/7 confidential support through telephone counselling, as a one off or a reoccurring structured service, but can support employees through things such as writing a will, immigration information and divorce procedures. They also provide the ‘My Healthy Advantage’ app which holds a range of valuable materials for employees such as videos and podcasts with celebrities on dealing with anxiety, stress and traumas, 4-week well-being plans and the opportunity to live chat with their support team.

It’s so important that staff know the services that are available to them and are encouraged to take advantage of what’s offered. There can be a stigma around things like calling a helpline when feeling overwhelmed but it’s important to make it clear that your business does not endorse that kind of thinking. A great way of showing this is by leading from the top and ensuring your senior management team are promoting what’s available and using it themselves.

  • Crisis management

Crises happen. Are you prepared?

As an employer you owe it to your employees to know how to help and support them when help and support is needed. And as a colleague (and hopefully friend) the same applies. We don’t want to think of crisis situations happening, but the truth is, sometimes it’s largely out of our control. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do something about it if it should happen.

Again, it comes down to creating a work culture that cares. At Armadillo we’ve offered mental health first aid training to ensure staff feel equipped.

Krisztian Szabo, Account Manager at Armadillo, is one of the team members who attended a two-day, mental health first aid training course run by Mental Health First Aid England. A mental health first aid training course is a wonderful way to empower staff and the business as a whole to feel confident taking action in a variety of mental health related crisis situations. The first aid training covers a variety of topics such as suicidal ideation and self-harm. All participants are briefed before the course begins to ensure their own mental health is protected and are also provided with an action leaflet at the end of the course to support them should they ever need to put their learnings into practice.

We really try to emphasise the course as an opportunity for Armadillo staff to learn valuable skills and techniques to protect their own mental health and support and nurture that of others.

Kris is passionate about making discussions surrounding mental ill health as normal as those around physical ill health and ultimately that’s where you need to be as a business. You can only achieve this by making massive changes to work culture. Without this, amazing support procedures like phonelines and mental health first aid training go to waste because if your culture suggests mental health isn’t important, your staff won’t value it or feel it’s valued either.

We’re living in a new world. It’s time for a new attitude towards mental health in the workplace.

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