October 3, 2017

How to create a more supportive workplace

On mental health issues, anxiety and stress: how to create a more supportive workplace

This year’s World Mental Health Day theme is mental health in the workplace. In light of this, we wanted to conduct some research of our own into workplace attitudes towards these issues. Our main aim was to gauge how workers feel about their working environment, and whether they are confident about receiving the support they need if they experience an issue.

Our findings were a little disappointing, and certainly highlight a need for changes in the way our nation’s workplaces deal with issues such as stress, anxiety and mental illness. Our findings also highlight an issue with perception – something this article will try to tackle.

Identifying a problem
One of the most shocking findings was that 85% of UK workers thought there was a stigma attached to mental health issues in the workplace. This illustrates how hard it is for workers to open up about potential mental health issues. Those suffering are likely to feel isolated and dejected, so to feel as if seeking help may only marginalise them further is a truly desperate situation.
This stigma may explain our finding that 58% of workers wouldn’t be comfortable telling their manager if they were suffering from a mental health issue. This means that over half of the country would suffer in silence should they face one of the toughest challenges.

Another reason that managers may be being kept at arm’s length with these issues is that just 20% of workers thought their manager was fully equipped to support mental health issues in the workplace.

When we asked Tom Oxley – lead consultant and relationship director at Bamboo Mental Health – about the problem facing some workplaces today, he said: “Despite wonderful awareness campaigns, stigma is alive and well when it comes to mental health at work. Stigma comes from within individuals, or it can be nurtured by some organisations. Make no mistake; subject knowledge has improved but there’s a chasm between awareness and action for many employers.

“Six out of ten [of those currently suffering] aren’t saying anything to their manager. That means they’re working unwell and not getting support. That means the team performance may be impaired.”

Identifying a solution
So, what can managers and workplaces do to mitigate this issue and create a more open and supportive atmosphere? And how can they make seeking support seem like an attractive, positive move instead of a potentially destructive action?
With the help of some of our tutors and Tom Oxley from Bamboo Mental Health, we’ve assembled a few tips to help move towards a more openly supportive workplace culture.

1. “Managers need to build the trust and rapport between themselves and their team.”
Without trust, and without the social bond that makes trust possible, it can be hard to share weekend plans with managers, let alone serious health issues. Whilst a manager’s role is to ensure the delivery of a process, service or similar, it is also their responsibility to motivate and inspire staff. Getting the most from staff members isn’t simply about working them hard.
2. “Managers need training to rehearse what to say, when to step in, and how to support individuals.”
Appropriate training and feeling equipped to deal with serious health issues can be a daunting prospect even for seasoned managers. Specialised training is available and is a valuable tool in the manager’s repertoire, not only for helping to mitigate issues but also for noticing them, and approaching them with tact.
3. “Managers need to be trained and supported by HR and leadership teams.”
As above, training needs to be made available for managers. HR and leadership teams need to take the initiative and responsibility to implement this, however.
4. “Managers need to be human in their response to the subject.”
This ensures that the worker is allowed to feel human despite their issue. Many sufferers of stress, anxiety or mental health issues feel that they are in some way flawed or different to the rest of society, so it’s imperative they are helped to feel normal, and that it is ‘okay to not be okay’. Expanding the point, Tom Oxley said “managers with personal or lived experience of mental ill health tend to be better equipped with the language around mental health”.
5. “Managers need to be empowered to make adjustments.”
Helping the employee deal with their workload and focus on getting better can have a great effect on making them feel supported and relieving pressure. Setting more appropriate working hours and targets is a great place to start. However, genuinely being able to make these adjustments is crucial – particularly without drawing too much attention or encountering red tape.

Looking forward
This year’s World Mental Health Day is set to cast mental health in the workplace into sharp focus. Hopefully, with this comes serious change. We believe that the majority of workplaces across the nation are becoming more accepting, supportive places to work but that, whilst they have come a long way, there’s still work to be done.
Not only do our courses provide an incredible toolset for HR and leadership teams to be able to deal with such sensitive issues, they also make it easy to pass these skills down the line in an organisation, so that all levels can feed into a more supportive working culture.

Helpful links:
UK charity Mind: https://www.mind.org.uk/
World Health Organisation: http://www.who.int/mental_health/world-mental-health-day/2017/en/
Mental Health Foundation: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/world-mental-health-day