mental health

Are you sitting comfortably?

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Evolution has designed us to be on the move – foraging, hunting and gathering – not sitting down for long periods of time. However, so many of us, find ourselves stuck behind a computer for the majority of our working day.

Research has linked a sedentary lifestyle to severe health conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer, cardiovascular disease and premature death.  

A sedentary lifestyle is also shown to have a negative impact on mental wellbeing and in particular an increased risk of depression.   By connecting to things around us, to noticing and interacting with others, individuals can feel less stressed and more content.

Many people do not meet the minimum physical activity guidelines and are at risk of developing health issues from spending too much time being sedentary. Yet keeping our employees in good mental and physical shape underpins morale and engagement and has a positive impact on productivity. 

Some simple changes can make a big difference:

  • Standing while commuting or walking to work.

  • Setting reminders to stand up every 30 minutes when working at a desk.

  • Standing up when on telephone calls.

  • Using the stairs instead of the lift.

  • Office floor walking to increase mobility and connect more to people.

  • Meet and greet visitors personally.

  • Walk and work.  Have that catch-up chat walking outside with someone for a few minutes.  It may improve both the quality of your connection and your fitness.

Many employers recognise the importance of providing a good working space and encouraging their staff to move more.

There are very good reasons to take action – a lack of physical activity is one of the top four causes of premature death, according to the World Health Organisation.

To support this, ‘On Your Feet Britain’ campaign on 26th April may just be a step in the right direction.

And to read more about the evidence regarding the potential hazards of sedentary work read the Expert Statement on the Sedentary Office.

Essential ingredients to support someone with a mental health issue.

Jayne Carrington, Director for wellbeing and engagement – Cordell Health

Time to Talk Day (about Mental Health) this year is on 7th February and the theme is ingredients…

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When I see the word ‘ingredients’ it makes me think about a recipe; getting myself organised and excited. The trouble comes with the weighing, the mixing, the baking. But it’s worth the effort.

So, what are the ingredients for supporting someone with mental health issues, and how can we bring them together? It's important. We used to think that “mental health” was a “taboo”, and something relatively few people “suffered” and where effective treatment was behind locked doors in a daunting asylum. Now we have come to realise that with one in four of us likely to have mental health issues at some time in our lives. It’s an everyday occurrence, and one where so very often simply bringing together the ingredients of friendship, support and a listening ear can be so effective.

I would start by creating an opportunity to talk - not in any sense a counselling coach or clinic room, but a quiet, relaxed, private space which feels comfortable, warm, secure and supportive. For me, that could be a country walk in the early spring sunshine or coffee and biscuits by a warm fire on a cold day. For others, it could be driving along in the car, or sitting quietly by the seafront. Choose carefully, and think about what would really work best.

The second crucial ingredient is time, plenty of it. Often time seems to be rationed, or simply unavailable as an ingredient, but you really do need it. Think of the difference when saying to someone “I haven’t much time, so what is it you wanted to say?” compared to “Let’s talk, I have all the time in the world…” How often all of us long for that time. Such a wonderful ingredient to bring to the mix.

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The third ingredient is a large dollop of “generous listening”. The very power of listening is enormous, and to be “generous” means to listen so intently and with such fulsome and genuine interest. Not as a “duty” or a “task”, but in an open, friendly and connected way. Generous listening is often scarce so you will need to look around the shops for enough of this ingredient, but it’s essential.

At the same time, find an ingredient which binds your own teeth and lips together for large periods of time! Something sticky, a large chunk of chewy toffee perhaps, anything which stops you from talking, from commenting on everything that is being said, and ensures that you simply listen. Remember that phrase “I am all ears”. Seriously, we so often minimize how important that is. So just a “pinch” (and no more) of your own comments or experience.

In fact, be careful with your ingredients that you do not change the mixture with “judgement” or even “advice”. They seem harmless in their little jars, but they can totally ruin your “Time to Talk cake”.

And there you have it - sometimes the best cakes are made from a few carefully selected ingredients – and it is as much about what you leave out as you add to the mix. Don’t over-mix, don’t over-cook. Simply bring the ingredients of “space, time, generous listening, and sticky toffees together”.

So, enjoy the day, bring those ingredients together and remember that any day can be a “Time to Talk” day.

World Mental Health Day 2018 - The importance of resilience in the workplace

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This week has seen mental health awareness back in the headlines, with the unveiling of World Mental Health Day 2018. The focus has been on young people and their mental health in our changing world, and the messages will have no doubt struck a cord through every headline and media channel worldwide.

Ironically, as I’m sat with my head down, embedded in my social media and ‘catching up’ on the lives of my friends and family, I have been struck by the breadth of the conversation about mental health, from young to old. It’s true, it IS vitally important that we get in early and coach young people to handle the pressures that will inevitably come. But what about those of us for whom ‘early’ intervention is too late… we are already adults, and according to MIND, 1 in 4 of us is likely to suffer a mental health issue every year.

Furthermore, we spend at least 1/3 of our life at work, it stands to reason that the work environment has a huge part to play in our mental well-being. Interestingly, no matter how old you are the story is the same, it’s about resilience, the magical ability to get knocked down and pick yourself up. The ability to survive or even thrive under pressure, to change course, to remain positive and take failure as an incentive to try and try again. 

As a manager or HR in charge of the health and wellbeing of employees, this is an area that can easily be overlooked. It can feel like there is not enough money for the ‘essentials’ let alone the icing on the cake! Yet it is never ‘too little too late’, the environment you cultivate can have an immediate effect on employee wellbeing, keep them mentally safe AND have an immediate effect on the bottom line.  

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It could be as simple as signposting to occupational health or other relevant services or taking steps to assure employees that vulnerability may feel like a weakness but to others, it looks like courage and is a brave step to make. 

As we move boldly (and less blindly) into a new era, it’s becoming clear that resiliency is a tool for survival, rather than just for success. Through our many clients at Cordell Health the same 5 resiliency factors come up time and time again…none of them are big budget and they all deliver the end result of a happier, more empowered, healthier and more productive workforce. You are, after all, only as good as your employees at the end of the day! 

Foster a sense of community

People thrive on friendships and good social interaction. People who have positive relationships in the workplace are more likely to enjoy coming to work and be productive when they get there.  

Get moving

Physical health is fundamental to our mental health, and creating a pleasant working environment and promoting healthy behaviour can bring many benefits.

Build a psychologically healthy environment

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Make the workplace a pleasant and happy environment through recognition, reward, job security and a management style and culture that promotes mutual trust and respect. If a manager has a positive mindset and a positive attitude to work it will rub off on others. 

Promote learning and development 

Developing new skills enhances a person’s capabilities and is empowering and helps their sense of wellbeing too.

Seek help 

Sometimes people require specialist support with physical or mental health issues and may need to be referred on for more support. It could also be that your business needs support tackling some of the issues it faces. For example from

  • Occupational Health

  • Employee Assistance Programs

  • Human resources

  • Counselling

  • Physiotherapy

  • Ask employees to come forward and seek support if they feel they need it

How does your business go about boosting employee resilience and have you noticed an uplift since putting strategies in place?

Managing the return to work interview after an employee’s mental health illness.

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Following on in our series about the return to work interview, we focus this week on strategies to manage the process, following the absence of an employee with mental health illness. 

In many ways, this can be more of a challenge to management and HR than any other return to work interview. The improved attitude to mental health care over the last few years has certainly helped bring these issues to the table, yet there is still work to be done to reduce the stigma about mental health and keep up the communication at all levels. Source. This can create a challenging in encouraging an employee open up about what help they need and should be handled with sensitivity and care. 

The aim of the return to work interview in this instance is to create an honest and open dialogue that will lead to a system of support and understanding between employers and employees. The first step is often the hardest, but by reaching out to the employee on a regular basis during their time off, it should be a natural progression to discuss how the business might facilitate a return to work that ‘works’ for them. 

When they are ready, you might hold the return to work interview in an informal yet private location or they may be happy to come into the workplace. 

The first thing to discuss is confidentiality, this is one of the biggest concerns employees have about disclosure during and after a mental health illness. How it is handled is entirely at the discretion of the employee, they may like colleagues to be informed on their behalf, they might prefer totally confidentiality or be happy to share the story themselves. There is no right or wrong and the WRAP is the perfect tool to assess this…. 

This brings us neatly on to what is arguably the most important tool in a managers’ return to work kit, the WRAP ‘Wellness, Recovery, Action Plan’. This positive collaborative management tool is an informal contract between the employee and employer that details the support the employee needs to enable them to recover and stay in work and what the employer will do to facilitate that. 

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No two experiences of mental health illness are the same and the WRAP enables a person centred approach. This not only opens up the conversation but also gives the person control over their recovery and helps them feel confident that they will receive the support they need.  It might include questions such as ‘Can you describe any of your triggers for mental ill health and early warning signs that we might notice’, or ‘If your health deteriorates, or we feel we have noticed early warning signs of distress, what should we do? Who can we contact?’.

There might be points on the WRAP that a manager will consequently need to monitor, such as that the person isn’t working too many long hours, that they are taking their lunch break or supporting with a flexible approach to hours and workload. This will be an evolving process and used as a basis for ongoing discussion, the WRAP can be continually amended as the employee settles back into work and wellbeing. 

There is a good template on page 25 of the guide: ‘Managing and supporting mental health at work: disclosure tools for managers’ on the cipd website.

The final important point that a line manager handling a return to work interview should be aware of, is their ‘frame of reference’. This is the unique set of values and judgements that we all hold that affect the way we see the world and the people in it.  It affects every decision we make. For a return to work interview, a manager should leave their own ‘frame of reference’ at the door and try and see the situation from the employees perspective. This will enable them to truly listen and respond to the needs of the person in the room, without any preconceived outcome or solution in mind. 

For further information https://mhfaengland.org or https://www.mind.org.uk

Do you use WRAP in your workplace?  How have you found it as a management tool in terms of your employees’ responsiveness to it, after a period of absence with mental ill health? 

10 tips for managing the return to work interview after an employee has been off with stress.

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According to the Health and Safety Executive, in 2016, 37% of all cases of work-related ill health were due to stress (and related issues of anxiety or depression). Each case resulted in an average 24 working days lost, the implication of which can have a huge effect on any business, large or small. 

High staff turnover is expensive, so it makes business sense to reduce the chances of employees leaving as a result of work-related stress.  The key to preventing an employee leaving is often good communication and understanding their issues and frustration. 

Our last blog discussed the importance of considering issues from different perspectives and this can really help in these situations.  A return to work interview handled with particular care and thought is essential if you want to retain such employees.   

Here are our top ten tips at Cordell Health for managing the return to work interview with an employee who has been off with stress. 

1. Consider the interview an opportunity to ensure the employee’s issues are fully explored.

2. Be open and supportive; make the conversation as informal as possible. 

3. Be objective and leave your own feelings and opinions outside the room. Listen carefully and show an interest in what they have to say, even if you feel that the employee is being unfair. 

4. Try to fully understand the cause of their stress from their perspective, so you can work with them to reduce possible triggers and barriers to returning to work where possible. 

5. Using the HSE management standards for work-related stress as a framework for discussion is useful:

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  • Demands – this includes issues such as workload, work patterns and the work environment
  • Control – how much say the person has in the way they do their work
  • Support – this includes the encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues
  • Relationships – this includes promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour
  • Role – whether people understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures that they do not have conflicting roles
  • Change – how organisational change (large or small) is managed and communicated in the organisation

The HSE has published a detailed questionnaire that has some really good return to work discussion points, ideal for a period of absence with stress. 

6. Discuss any medical advice given by a GP or occupational health professional and be honest about the changes that can be made by the business and the reasons for the recommendations that can’t be accommodated.  

7. It is important not to create unrealistic expectations or to fail to deliver on promises that might further increase the employees’ stress.

8. Use the interview to reinforce the employees’ importance to the business and let them know all about what has been going on in their absence. 

9. Agree how their progress back at work will be monitored, and set achievable goals that consider areas such as workload, regular breaks and impact on work-life balance.

10. Follow up the meeting with regular communication; frequent informal chats work well and may lead your employee to feel more likely to open up and share areas of concern or problems that arise. 

For more advice on supporting an employee with stress Fit For Work and the HSE have some really good strategies and tips. 

Have you had to manage an employee’s return to work interview after a period of absence with stress? Were there any strategies you used to help them feel at ease and support them in the road to recovery and keep them in employment?

Why you need to manage your employee’s stress.

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We are getting used to hearing friends, family, colleagues and even children say ‘I’m stressed’ on daily basis. These two little words have become such a part of our culture that the true enormity of what they mean can often pass us by. 

As you probably saw all over the news last week, stress was the focus of Mental Health Awareness WeekThe Mental Health Foundation has highlighted the dangers with a report revealing the prevalence and implications of our stress levels in the UK, and offering guidelines to how we can manage and reduce our stress as well as calling on the Government to create a ‘stress-free UK’. 

Stress, by which we mean the sense of pressure and subsequent anxiety as experienced by an individual person will have a number of contributing factors. 

Of course, it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. We all need a degree of pressure to perform, and it has been recognised for many years that as pressure increases, our performance increases too. The adrenaline surge that follows is the biological basis of the sense of excitement and heightened alertness that can make us deliver beyond what we might normally expect. 

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Sadly, there comes a point, when we reach the top of this so-called “stress-performance curve”, where increasing pressure leads to worsening performance. A downward spiral eventually leads to the state of anxiety that we term the "fight or flight” reaction.  This time instead of excitement, we experience fear.

The point at which we meet our maximum capacity depends on factors such as knowledge and experience of the role, but also our own resilience, which can be affected by factors at home or work.  Ill health, whether due to mental health or physical health problems or both, will also have an impact on resilience.

Whether or not the factors affecting resilience come from our own health, family life or the workplace, the fact remains that it is often employers that hold the key to unlocking that person’s ability to deal with the stress they are under. It makes good management and good business sense, as success, in any sector, is delivered through people. Being alert and sensitive to stress amongst those people, no matter what the cause, will enhance the sense of support they feel and thereby their motivation and productivity. The benefit is far-reaching for employers and employees too.

Business in the Community (BITC), in partnership with Public Health England, has recently published a Mental Health Toolkit for employers. The toolkit sets out the scale of the problem for employers, with mental health issues in the workforce costing UK employers up to £42 billion a year.

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They revealed that 91% of managers agree that what they do affects the well-being of their staff, yet only 58% of employees believed their line manager was actually concerned about their well-being.

Further to this, a report was released this week by the mental health charity Mind, it revealed that in a survey of almost 44,000 employees 48% had experienced poor mental health (including stress, low mood and anxiety) and of those, only half felt able to tell their employer about their difficulties. There is clearly still a lot of work to be done to open up the lines of communication and empower and equip employers with the tools to support staff with their mental wellbeing. 

The BITC mental health toolkit lists eight actions for employers for good mental health in the workplace. By following these, employers will also be putting into practice the recommendations of the Stevenson-Farmer report, Thriving At Work.

  1. Make a commitment to mental health, with senior level “buy-in’.
  2. Build your approach, including co-production of a plan with employees.
  3. Create a positive culture; supporting and valuing employees.
  4. Provide support and training, including recognition of the importance of line managers and providing line manager training and development.
  5. Manage mental health, including the use of the Health and Safety Executive Management Standards
  6. Provide the right support, including training for managers to be confident with sensitive conversations, and being ready to make reasonable adjustments.
  7. Help people to recover, including through adjustments and support.
  8. Go further, evaluating your approach and sharing best practice.

How do you feel you cope with the mental health wellbeing of employees in your workplace?  Do you feel equipped to know what to say or how to talk to an employee who you think might have a problem? 

For more information on supporting mental health in the workplace please read our blog on 'How to care for the mental health of a colleague' or call us on 0118 207 6190 Cordell Health

5 ways to find ‘Time to Talk’ in your business

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It’s not often we arrive at work to be told that today it’s ‘time to talk’! But today, Thursday 1st Feb 2018, we’re doing exactly that and showing our support for 'Time to Talk Day'.  Brought about by Time to Change, to encourage everyone to have a conversation about mental health … no matter who they are!  

Mental health is an issue that no organisation can afford to ignore with 1 in 4 British workers being affected by conditions like anxiety, depression and stress every year.  It is also the leading cause of sickness absence in the UK, costing an average of £1,035 per employee per year (Time to Change).

Many who are struggling with their mental health are made to feel isolated, worthless and ashamed.  Very often, it is left to the person who is struggling to find the strength to open up and talk about their illness, as those around them don’t know how to start those difficult conversations and are afraid to say the wrong thing. Time to Talk Day is a chance for all of us to be more open about mental health – to talk, to listen, to change lives.

There is a strong business case for tackling the stigma associated with mental illness and even small changes can have a positive impact. Sickness absence rates are reduced, presenteeism levels drop and staff wellbeing, productivity, and retention improve all round if employees feel appropriately supported. Businesses need to know what to say, when to say it and most importantly how it needs to be said.

There has never been a better time to take those first steps and start to make change happen. We’ve put together 5 ways that any business, no matter how big or small, can step up and improve their culture and attitude to mental health in the workplace today.

  1. Work with an independent occupational health organisation that can assess your businesses specific needs for mental health and wellbeing and work with you to put strategies in place. This might include mental resilience training to help prevent mental illness in the first place or training dedicated members of staff to help reduce stress or deal with Mental Health First Aid.
  2. Sign up for the  Time to Change Employer Pledge and develop an action plan to get your employees talking appropriately and supportively about mental health. This could include in-house awareness projects or training for employees and line managers to help understand mental health issues and how to handle those difficult conversations about mental illness within their teams.
  3. Create an in-house mental health resource by choosing one or more members of the team to become dedicated Mental Health First Aiders. Employees will have a dedicated member of staff who they know they can talk to, who has been trained to listen and signpost where to get help.
  4. Review your company’s health benefits, employee assistance program and support structures. Make sure there is provision for confidential support and that your employees know about it. Get senior management on board and lead by example, creating a culturally supportive workplace.
  5. Appropriate communication - find time to talk to colleagues and start a conversation by simply asking if everything’s ok? A quiet private spot away from the office works well, listen without judgement and encourage others to do the same when you notice someone may need a little support.

How is your office finding Time to Talk?  Have you pledged to make any changes to your workplace today?

Creating a positive workplace through culture, environment and communication.

This week, mental health has been back in the headlines with the announcement of ‘Blue Monday’, coined as the ‘most depressing day of the year’, by Psychologist Cliff Arnoll back in 2004.

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Whether there is a scientifically proven ‘worse day’, for people actually suffering from a mental health issue remains to be seen. Regardless, Blue Monday helps us all by bringing the conversation about mental health into the forefront of our minds, challenging us to think about it and breaking down more of the barriers and stigma attached.

This can only be a good thing, and at Cordell Health this week we have been thinking all about how the mental health of a team can be influenced by subtle changes and positive reinforcement in the workplace. The list could be endless but we’ve narrowed it down to three main areas; Culture, Environment and Communication. See the top tips listed below!

Culture

Autonomy - giving staff the freedom to manage their own time. This might include work from home or flexible hours to fit around family responsibilities.

Support - allowing staff office time to get ‘life admin’ done, rewards for healthy lifestyle or walking challenges, supporting employees to achieve a good work-life balance.

Education - employees continually furnished with new skills are more engaged, motivated and loyal. Skills don’t even have to be work related to have a positive effect. Research has shown that gaining new personal skills reduces stress and improves wellbeing as well as productivity in the workplace.

Perks - Statistics show that employees often value perks more than pay rises, and better still, they don’t always have to cost the company money! They might include benefits such as allowing time off to work for charitable causes, use of the company car or a free day off on your birthday!

Environment

Community - not every office space is oversized and dowsed in natural light, but the way in which you use a working space has a huge impact on the wellness and productivity of a team. The sense of community that bonds a team together with a shared purpose and work ethic comes from a flexible zoned space. No matter how small these areas are, the aim is to try and create 3 zones; an open plan zone for shared creativity, a quiet zone for concentrating and a comfy social zone for relaxation when people need to step away from their desks.

Communication

Body Language - there’s a million variations of the way in which we use our bodies to communicate the most of subtle of things. But this is definitely an area worth thinking about; we all know there’s nothing worse than trying to have a conversation with someone whilst they’re checking their emails or sitting fidgeting with arms firmly folded. Generally, in a meeting or a one to one situation you’ll be aiming to show a supportive, positive and communicative stance. This would mean (phones and emails off) sitting with legs and arms uncrossed, head tilted forward and body slightly leaning forward. Eye contact is important but not in a staring way!

Language - The way in which we listen and use our words is full of nuances and we should practice both in equal measure! Use the ‘appreciate, ask and acknowledge’ strategy, getting feedback along the way, asking for opinions and appreciating and acknowledging work well done. Language should be polite, kind and stress positive actions and positive consequences. Focus on what can be done rather than what cannot, by using words such as ‘can’, ‘will’ or ‘able to’.  Suggest alternative solutions and offer people choices. Aim to help others where you can, and be bureaucratic rather than use a tone of blame or put people on the spot.

What do you feel works well or presents challenges in your workplace?

How to care for the mental health of a colleague

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January is a tough month. After all the fun and spending of December, many of us are feeling those New Year blues. The nights draw in, the bank balance is low and we’re probably not even allowing ourselves a cheery slice of chocolate cake.

Of course, this will reflect how we act and operate in the workplace and with reports of breakdowns and depression at an all-time high, we need to be more vigilant than ever that we are taking good care of ourselves and keeping an eye out for our colleagues’ well-being too.

Many employers are ahead of the curve and have support structures in place for employees that are struggling. Yet for those that don’t, how do we tell if a colleague is suffering from a mental health issue and what do we do about it?

How do you know if a colleague is struggling?

Any major life event can trigger stress, but how we react to those stressors is individual to each and every one of us.

Where one may find Christmas so stressful they cannot function, another will excel with the pressure and delight in the challenge it brings. Similarly with a house move, a speeding ticket or a time-pressured project at work. The worst nightmare for one is the making of another.

Without being too ‘big brother’ about it, if you want to support your colleagues, you need to get to know them inside and out. Establishing a behavioural baseline and recognising how they deal with different stresses can, at the very least, help you acknowledge when they might be in need of some extra support or care.

You can never make assumptions that there is a problem, but if you notice any of these 5 warning signs are present for more than a week or two, it may be significant enough to at least start a conversation or ask if they’re ok. 

5 Mental Health Warning Signs:

  • Changes in behaviour, mood or how they interact with colleagues
  • Changes in their work output, motivation levels and focus. Often frequent short-term absence is a warning sign.
  • Struggling to make decisions, get organised and find solutions to problems
  • Appearing tired, anxious or withdrawn and losing interest in activities and tasks they previously enjoyed
  • Changes in eating habits, appetite and increased smoking and drinking.

Now you’ve recognised the signswhat do you do about it?

  • Start a conversation. A one to one away from the office with complete privacy is a good place to start. 
  • Listen without judgment. Let the person talk without trying to push the conversation. Let there be gaps in the discussion if necessary. Let the person you’re worried about set the pace, but be willing to go at his/her speed. Offer emotional support, understanding, patience and encouragement.
  • No means no. Just because you’re ready to talk it doesn’t mean they will be. If they don’t open up, remind them that you are there for them if they want to come back to you.  A gentle ‘is everything ok?’ at a later date will act as a reminder.
  • Be supportive. Statements like  “What can I do to help?” or “Is there anything I can do?” are supportive and not too pushy. Try to show that you understand that depression is a health condition, not a personal flaw or weakness and that it usually gets better with the right management.
  • Talk about the things that used to excite them; invite your colleague to lunch or other activities. Keep trying if he or she declines, but don't push him or her to take on too much too soon.
  • Familiarise yourself with your company’s health benefits. There could be CONFIDENTIAL help and support available that you could point your colleague towards.

The overriding take out from all of these tips is that it’s better to do something than nothing. We should all encourage a duty of care in the workplace and by taking the first steps to help a colleague, you can make a positive difference to the outcome of their experience with a mental health issue. We all owe it to each other.

Has a colleague or a line manager supported you with a mental health issue at work? How did it feel when they first acknowledged that you might be in need of some support

HELP, I’m distracted! Why presenteeism is a problem, not just at Christmas…

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I sat at my desk this morning and started writing a light-hearted festive blog about workplace productivity in the Christmas season. We’re all partying, eating and drinking, and doing the bare minimum at our desks. I’d only got two paragraphs in, by which time I’d had a call from a friend, looked at some shoes on sale, Google-mapped a venue for a meeting on Friday, paid for a school trip and ordered a new dog bed.  I was certainly not being productive! I was present but absent, and sadly it was nothing to do with having gone out and had a good time.

It occurred to me that this is presenteeism, and it’s a problem that is clearly NOT just something that happens at this time of year!

Presenteeism used to specifically refer to employee productivity that was lessened by coming to work when they were sick and should probably have been at home in bed.  More and more it’s being used to describe the way in which we work and how our productivity is challenged by the way in which we live. We face constant distractions. We can barely have a face-to-face conversation without beeping or buzzing and we struggle to focus even when we’re on our own. We tap or swipe our phone screens an average of 2,617 times a day!  And the constant alerts from watches or emails remind us there’s a bargain to be had or that someone needs something from us. It’s an adrenalin-fuelled pastime that is hard to ignore and is making us stressed and unproductive.

The British Heart Foundation suggests that presenteeism due to stress and issues with mental health could well be costing the UK economy £15.1bn a year and it’s obvious that technology plays a large part in it.

BUT what to do with this tide of technology? You can’t get an entire workforce to turn off their phones, emails and alerts; we’re all adults after all!

I was reminded of a story I heard from someone that worked in a careers office (in the dark ages before mobile phones). They had a phone system that would call you at 10:30am to remind you to stop and take a break. Everyone would put down their pens, walk away from their desks and phones and head to the staff room where they had a tea rota. They’d all have a drink and a chat and after 20 minutes or so head back to their desks, focused and refreshed.

It’s old-fashioned I know, but there’s something wholesome and nourishing about legitimising ‘switching off’ and taking a break! We didn’t have access to work 24 hours a day back then, but I bet they were more productive and happier overall.

Riding the tech wave requires organisations to culturally shift, so that they can thrive on the benefits of technology but care about their employee’s mental health and wellbeing too.

With that in mind (and phone turned off), here are some thoughts for diminishing your company’s tech-related presenteeism in 2018!

1.    Be open. Create a culture in which employees have a safe place to share worries with colleagues or line managers. It might not be work related but if they feel supported they are more likely to perform their best

2.    Organise a review of your workplace policies and help staff understand their individual working style. By opening up the conversation about distractions and presenteeism you will be able to explore with them how to maximise their most productive times of day. This could include different working hours or a period in the day when they acknowledge they would benefit from putting their phones away.

3.    Build a working environment that celebrates a good work/ life balance, where taking work home and answering emails in the evenings is not encouraged.

4.    Time management training with trained staff on how to schedule their day so that there’s a time set aside for social media, prioritising emails or booking a holiday! No business expects employees to have their head down eight hours a day but minimising the distraction or saving it for less-focused hours will maximise output in the day.

5.    Encourage a healthy balanced lifestyle by offering gym memberships, a team sport or a group walk at lunchtimes. Spread awareness on the importance of getting quality sleep, and encourage staff to communicate with their line manager if it’s becoming a problem. Supply fruit and plenty of water.

6.    If you are worried about your teams stress you may need some Mental Health First Aid!

I could definitely benefit from thinking about my productive times of day and making sure I maximise them whilst using the less productive times to get my personal admin and emails done – guilt free!

 Would be great to know what you think? Is there one change you could make in the New Year?

Emergency call for Mental Health First Aid

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We think about our resident first-aider at work rushing to deal with an emergency, should it arise.  They might be able to dress a wound, numb a pain or even save a life with CPR. But what about the emergencies we can’t see, those that are suffering in silence with a mental health issue?  Statistics show that the problem is worse than we might think: a YouGov 2013 report stated that 1-in-5 people have taken a day off due to stress, but that 90% feel unable to tell their employer that mental health was the reason.

Despite the government recently announcing that the Department of Health and Public Health England are launching a campaign to train 1 million people in basic mental health first aid skills, there is still a whole culture that needs to change. We don’t really know what’s going on beneath the radar, but the fact remains that mental health in the workplace is still a taboo and it’s not going to change without employers stepping up and starting the conversation.

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Over half UK employers would like to do more to improve staff wellbeing but they don’t feel they have the right training or guidance to do so. Equipping ourselves with the skills to have that conversation needn’t be as hard as we might think. If just one person in a workplace can be trained to become a Mental Health First Aider (MHFA) it can go a long way towards creating a workplace culture where people can talk openly about what’s going on in their lives and how it may affect their work.

So, what exactly is a Mental Health First Aider?

Someone that has been trained to be mental health-literate, meaning they can recognise the signs that someone might be struggling and are trained in having those difficult first conversations. They listen, support and signpost so that the person can get the help they need from inside and outside of the workplace. Anyone can become a MHFA, from those in typically high stress male dominated environments to those in people facing service roles such as hairdressing, police force, nursing or teaching.

Isn’t that going to cost my business a fortune?

Actually, no. It’s more likely to make you money in the long run! Staff will be more engaged and stay with the company for longer, they will be happier, healthier and more motivated. If that’s not enough, an improvement of all these things brings with it a drop in ‘presenteeism’; there’ll be no more coming in and staring at a blank screen for your team!  Presenteeism is estimated to cost the UK economy an average of £605 per employee per year, making the cost savings, especially for a larger company, huge!

How do I know if a colleague is in need of Mental Health First Aid?

According to the Take 10 Together campaign the first step to getting someone the help they might need is to be aware of any unusual changes in their behaviour. By taking time to observe and consider if the action is a one-off (after a particularly stressful school run) or a more permanent change, you’ll be able to see if they are struggling. These are the MHFA England (www.mhfaengland.org) top signs to look out for:

Physical

  • Frequent headaches or stomach upsets 
  • More days off sick with minor illnesses
  • Difficulty sleeping or constant tiredness
  • Being run down
  • Lack of care over appearance
  • Sudden weight loss or gain

Emotional and Behavioural

  • Irritability, aggression or tearfulness
  • Being withdrawn, not participating in conversation or social activities
  • Increased arguments or conflict with others
  • Increased consumption of caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes or sedatives
  • Indecision, inability to concentrate
  • Erratic or socially unacceptable behaviour
  • Being louder or more exuberant than usual
  • Loss of confidence
  • Difficulty remembering things
  • Loss of humour

At Work

  • Increased errors, missing deadlines or forgetting tasks
  • Taking on too much work and volunteering for every new project
  • An employee who is normally punctual arriving late
  • Working too many hours, first in-last out, sending emails out of hours or while on leave
  • Increased sickness absence
  • Being fixated with fair treatment and quick to use grievance procedures

Want to get started? Download the MHFA ‘Starting the conversation’ toolkit here or consider training with Cordell Health to become a Mental Health First Aider in your workplace. If you’ve already got experience of helping a colleague in need of some MHFA we’d love you to share your top tips on how you’ve managed to broach those difficult conversations and what reaction you’ve had.