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 Week! The 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.
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.
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.
- Make a commitment to mental health, with senior level “buy-in’.
- Build your approach, including co-production of a plan with employees.
- Create a positive culture; supporting and valuing employees.
- Provide support and training, including recognition of the importance of line managers and providing line manager training and development.
- Manage mental health, including the use of the Health and Safety Executive Management Standards
- Provide the right support, including training for managers to be confident with sensitive conversations, and being ready to make reasonable adjustments.
- Help people to recover, including through adjustments and support.
- 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.