In many ways, mental health is just like physical health – everybody has it and we all need to take care of it. One in four of us will experience a mental health problem every year, and, given how much of our lives are spent at work, it’s really important employers and managers take an active role in helping staff stay well. If employees are experiencing workplace stress or their mental health starts to decline, it’s equally important that they’re offered support.
Frequently cited causes of stress include long working hours and excessive workloads, both of which are commonplace among healthcare staff. Taking these factors into account, plus the responsibility to deliver high quality patient care, coupled with often working long, unsociable hours, it makes sense that primary care workers are at a greater risk of experiencing poor mental health. In fact, Mind’s own research shows that almost nine in 10 primary care workers find their work-life stressful. Our survey of GPs and practice nurses also revealed one in five said workplace stress has led to them developing a mental health problem.
Though many of us experience poor mental health, we know that too often we suffer in silence. This can be particularly true for healthcare professionals – as there can be a misconception that those working in the sector are somehow immune to developing mental health problems. Fears about being deemed unfit to practise can also prevent people coming forward. Unfortunately, feeling unable to open up isn’t unique to those of us working within healthcare – it seems to be a problem across the board. When we surveyed over 45,000 employees taking part in our Workplace Wellbeing Index about disclosing a mental health problem at work, only one in four of all respondents said they would be likely to seek support from their manager if they were struggling. With this in mind, it makes sense that more and more employers are increasingly working towards prioritising staff wellbeing and promoting an open culture around mental health.
“There is increasing acknowledgement from employers that more needs to be done to support the mental health of their staff. Despite the strides we’ve made, there’s still a long way to go as not all employers are taking action”
Prioritising workplace wellbeing
I joined Mind in 2007 and have led our campaigning for mentally healthy workplaces since 2010. Throughout the course of our work raising awareness on this issue, we have seen an evolution in how employers view workplace wellbeing, with the focus shifting from the reactive management of sickness absence to a more proactive effort around employee engagement and preventative initiatives. This shift towards an upstream approach has given employers the impetus to start looking at the mental health of their staff from a different perspective. There is increasing acknowledgement from employers that more needs to be done to support the mental health of their staff. Despite the strides we’ve made, there’s still a long way to go as not all employers are taking action.
As highlighted in the Government-commissioned independent review Thriving at Work, poor mental health costs employers between £33bn and £42bn a year. Workplaces that are recognising the value of prioritising workplace wellbeing are seeing happier, more engaged and productive staff who are less likely to need to take time off sick. Obviously, after decades of neglect and underfunding, with services stretched at a time of rising demand, NHS staff in particular are facing extremely difficult circumstances.
The good news is that there are lots of small, inexpensive steps all employers can take to support their staff. Even those that do come with a cost attached are likely to save money in the long run as employers reap rewards associated with healthier, happier, more engaged and loyal employees.
“Investing in staff wellbeing makes good business sense, but it’s better for all of us in wider society too”
The Wellness Action Plans (WAPs) – available for free from Mind’s website – are useful tools to help facilitate conversations about mental health. Drawn up jointly by managers and staff, they can identify the unique triggers for poor mental health and what helps people stay well. It’s also important for leaders to role-model healthy working habits and behaviours, like taking their proper breaks, debriefing after facing a challenging or traumatic situation and taking time off if they are unwell, physically or mentally.
As well as putting practical support in place, training can also help to raise awareness and promote openness among staff. Mind, with support from the Royal Foundation and 11 partners, has produced the Mental Health at Work Gateway, which has plenty of information about workplace wellbeing and the training available from a range of trusted sources. This portal brings together information, advice, resources and training for employers – including business owners – to promote good mental health at work.
Investing in staff wellbeing makes good business sense, but it’s better for all of us in wider society too. Having the right workforce, with the right skills, in the right place is central to realising the NHS long term plan’s ambition to drive further improvements in the quality of outcomes. To do this, staff need to feel supported by their employer. This means staff wellbeing being made a priority in terms of taking steps to promote wellbeing, tackling the work-related causes of mental health problems and offering appropriate support to staff if they are struggling with their mental health.
Healthcare staff do a hugely important job and can make a real difference to the experiences of people accessing help. Good mental health and wellbeing is essential for all of us and your work should not be a barrier to this.
Image credit: Getty
- As told to John White.