Mental health problems can cost employers up to £30million a year. As the workplace is a known potential stress point for many people, regardless of business size or industry, it is a universal issue that has to be tackled.
From a business standpoint, mental health problems in staff can cause financial losses due to: prolonged staff absence, causing losses in production speed, potential reduction in quality of work causing increased time to complete and extra recruitment spending if those same staff have to leave their jobs.
Ensuring a healthy work environment should therefore be a priority for business owners, both for the welfare of their staff and the business overall. There are number of ways to look after your employees mental health, including through awareness, but it’s most important to create the right environment with your office layout and culture.
Here are a few key ways to watch out for your team’s mental health at work:
Promote a positive culture in the workplace
In a recent study, a worrying 30% of those surveyed disagreed with the statement ‘I would be able to talk openly with my line manager if I was stressed’. It’s vital that your staff feel they can speak to you about any stress or mental health issues they may be having at work so that solutions can be found, whether it’s through help or better support, because any problems will likely worsen the longer they go unaddressed.
Doing your best to promote an open and positive work culture can help ensure that your staff feel comfortable enough to discuss their mental health with you.
If you’re unsure how to begin consciously promoting a positive culture within your workplace, try starting small. For example, recognising the achievements that your employees make can help them feel more valued.
This can be as simple as giving some well-earned praise, or taking the team for lunch to celebrate a big win for the team sale. Feel free to get as creative as you like, just remember to keep the rewards proportionate to the achievements.
One way to help combat stress on a team/business level is by enabling group activities that specifically target this. Practicing certain mindfulness exercises like yoga and meditation together as a group can be a great way to promote a positive culture and foster team-building within your company.
Not only do group activities in general promote interpersonal bonding, but yoga has shown itself to be have a positive effect on anxiety and moods. Meanwhile meditation training is proven to help people concentrate better, experience fewer negative emotions and help them remember more “details of their work”. There are plenty of online yoga and meditation courses available for you to choose from, so you can easily fit the sessions around a busy office schedule.
Natural light can help combat depression
The wrong work environment can have a profound effect on a person’s mental and physical wellbeing. Therefore one of the the first things you can do to prevent unnecessary stress in your business is make sure that your office space is designed with their mental wellbeing in mind.
For example, research by Northwestern Medicine and the University of Illinois indicated that exposure to natural light in the workplace has a positive effect on people’s “sleep, physical activity and quality of life”. Natural light can also help combat symptoms of depression, by causing the brain to regulate its production of serotonin.
And, as if that wasn’t enough, “Prolonged exposure to inadequate levels of daylight is associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder”. Therefore it’s very important for your office to make use of as much natural light as possible – both for your sake and for the the sake of your employees.
Create social spaces
Social interaction is crucial when it comes to maintaining one’s mental health, and “89 percent of employees say that work relationships are important to their overall quality of life.” Therefore you should make sure that your office has a comfortable place for your employees to spend their down time together.
For instance, a sofa or dining table placed away from the main desks can be all the space necessary to foster interpersonal relationships without disrupting the rest of the office while they’re at work.
Studies have shown that people who work in blue spaces feel “centered, calm and hopeful towards their work,” while yellow promotes energy and optimism. So when it comes time to decorate your office, you might consider incorporating a calming blue into your work spaces, and adding a little yellow to your social spaces.
Supporting your staff
Every business will be affected by mental health issues of some kind at some point, owing to the fact that 1 in 4 of us will develop some form of mental health problem each year. If you hold a position of authority in a professional environment, then you have a duty of care to all those working under you.
This means that, once your positive culture is firmly established, you have to be prepared to offer your staff the proper support if they come to you for help with their mental health.
Remember to focus on the person and not the problem. A supportive, non-judgemental response to their concerns can have a huge impact in their recovery. Doing something as simple as speaking to to the staff member in question and offering to make whatever adjustments (within reason) they need to their workplace conditions can often be incredibly effective.
If you would like to know more about how best to help your staff with these delicate issues, then there are resources and courses from the charity Mind which can help prepare you for this potential eventuality.