At last, attitudes to mental health are changing

Once, mental health issues in the workplace were seen as a sign of weakness. But no more. Light is being shone on the problem, and companies are learning that the cure might not be within the sufferer, but within their own organisations. It’s a significant and dramatic shift…

Given that one of four people will suffer from a mental health condition at some point in their lives, it’s refreshing to see that such steps are being taken to remedy it that the issue is at last trending when it comes to workplace issues.

And isn’t that as it should be? After all, when employees are well they’re more likely to be enthusiastic, and certainly better able to contribute to the business, which is why they’re there in the first place. No-one comes to work with the intention of being miserable, insecure, and frightened, and performing below their best, but they do – and far too often.

Just as not all disabilities are visible because they lack a wheelchair or crutches, so mental health isn’t something to which a bandage can be applied as an outward sign that someone’s in a dark place.

And far from helpful are those phrases such as ‘snap out of it’, which can trip glibly off the tongue, yet are as effective as a chocolate teapot.

But when it comes to workplace mental health issues, the root cause can often be the workplace itself – or what goes on inside it. It’s here that unrealistic deadlines can be set; senior employees can be bullies; or that unreasonable pressure, applied over weeks and months, can contrive to grind down an individual. What’s more, when that’s coupled with the potential for inability to cope being seen as a sign of weakness, the problem becomes even worse.

Refreshing then that employers have at last woken up to the fact that when acknowledged and faced up to, mental health issues can be tackled and resolved with the right kind of intervention.

That’s a positive step in the right direction, and when acknowledgement turns into acceptance, it’s to be hoped that those suffering with mental health problems will feel less reticent about coming forward and sharing that they have a problem. The oft-used phrase ‘it’s OK to not be OK’ comes to mind.

Stress levels are on the increase according to a study by management consultancy Lane4 which questioned more than 2,000 employees. A third felt more stressed today than they did two years ago, and a similar proportion thought working a four-day week would be a good idea.

Adrian Moorhouse, Lane4’s MD, isn’t so sure, given that two thirds of those surveyed said stress was due to a higher workload. He believes working fewer days would compress the stress into a shorter period of time, which wouldn’t be helpful over the longer term. He said: ““It’s interesting to think about the working week and how it’s evolved over time. A four-day working week today probably equates to the traditional five-day week of 30 years ago in terms of the amount of information we digest and the outputs we produce!

While a four-day working week may seem appealing to some, there’s a risk that it would lead to employees working flat out for those four days, which is not a healthy or sustainable approach to managing a work-life balance. In fact, it could leave people feeling more stressed.

Ultimately, no matter how many days a week we work, we will all face pressure at some point, and that shouldn’t be viewed in a negative light. When managed effectively, pressure and stress can actually drive high performance. Organisations should focus on creating a workplace where stress doesn’t become excessive, and where employees can use it to their advantage.”

Easier said than done. But the answer lies with the company, and the culture it creates. The very people who cause the stress that leads to mental health issues are the ones who can do most to eliminate it, he says. “The best approach to helping employees be resilient will be different for every company. However, organisations with resilient workforces do have things in common such as a culture where high levels of pressure are matched with high levels of support, managers who are skilled at providing that balance and easy access to relevant resources for all employees.”

So here’s an excellent resource that may well be helpful. It’s the Mental Health At Work website, curated by Mind, where advice is available based on all sorts of factors, tailoring it to a specific individual or company.

Picture: Ocusfocus | Dreamstime