Search

Eyes on wellbeing

“Our wellbeing at work is critical”

Alison Pay, managing director of Mental Health at Work, gives OT  some practical tips for workplace wellbeing during Stress Awareness Month

meditation animation
Getty/sorbetto

Workplace wellbeing is at the forefront of our minds this Stress Awareness Month. With this in mind, OT  spoke to Alison Pay, managing director of Mental Health at Work, part of the Mental Health Foundation, about stress in the workplace, the value of early conversations, and how employees can prepare themselves.

What advice you would give individuals for managing stress at work?

Workplaces that are open and inclusive around mental health, and have invested in awareness and skills training to manage mental health, are better at creating an environment where employees feel safe to talk about the pressures they are feeling.

The term ‘stress’ means something different for each of us, and at Mental Health at Work we view this as an invitation for a conversation. Having a trusted colleague or manager available for a confidential and non-judgemental conversation enables us talk about what is on our mind. If that individual is also trained to ask open and reflective questions, then often a conversation is enough.

Our mental health is unique, and one size does not fit all

 

The power of this conversation can be strengthened if this is backed up with signposting for relevant and timely support, including employee assistance programmes, and if managers are open to considering reasonable adjustments. If an individual can have this conversation at an early stage, when they feel they are moving away from being of sound mental health, then these actions can help an individual return to health.

What practical solutions should people look to incorporate into their working day to relieve stress?

Practical solutions for managing stress at work will be an individual decision. Our mental health is unique, and one size does not fit all.

Having conversations, particularly with our line managers about mental health, can help support us to manage our mental health and wellbeing at work. A structured conversation, built around a wellness action plan, which asks open questions around how you stay well at work, can help both manager and employee to agree what works for an individual and how this can be accommodated within each role and workplace.

The role of the workplace is not to diagnose or advise, but if it can provide an environment which supports our psychological health and safety, then early action may be all that is needed to keep us well

 

Having trained experts in listening and signposting, such as the Mental Health at Work Mental Health Allies, can be very helpful as an alternative resource for individuals who do not want to speak to their line manager, ensuring that everyone in the workplace has someone who they can speak to, when and where they need it.

When should a member seek professional help for their stress?

Stress is not a diagnosable mental health issue. At Mental Health at Work, we encourage early conversations in the workplace about our mental health: with colleagues, with managers, with Mental Health Allies and sometimes with human resources or occupational health, along with early access to the right signposting.

Your mental health is your mental health, and no one else is an expert in it

 

If this is not enough to support a movement back to health and we move towards issues or illness, we should then seek professional help. The role of the workplace is not to diagnose or advise, but if it can provide an environment which supports our psychological health and safety, then early action may be all that is needed to keep us well.

If a situation is causing stress, how would you recommend preparing for that conversation with a manager? Have you got any practical tips?

As we all know, a conversation is two-way. If you want to raise it with your manager, part of the success of that outcome is how prepared your manager is to receive that conversation. So, have they gone through awareness training so that they've removed their own personal bias and stigma around mental health? That is important, because you need the person you are talking to to be able to listen to you.

Part of the answer to this is going into the conversation not expecting your manager to solve it for you, because actually, that's not their job, and they're not qualified to do it. Go in with the responsibility that your mental health is your mental health, and no one else is an expert in it.

You would ideally like your manager to listen, and ask how they can support you to be able to manage your work, not to be able to fix the problem entirely. It is important that, ahead of the conversation, you have thought about some suggestions about what is right for you.

At Mental Health at Work, we don't provide '10 tips' or anything like that, because what's right for one person is not going to be right for another. This is not always about less work. There is a myriad of complexities around it. So, do the thinking beforehand, about what could make the difference for you.

Having more than one suggestion is important, because this is going to be a conversation. It might be that it would really help you if you could leave at four o'clock on a Thursday. It might be within your managers sphere of influence to say yes to that - but it might not be, and that's also perfectly reasonable. But you then have to think, ‘what else might I want to suggest?’ Think as broadly as possible about how the workplace can support you, or what your request to the workplace is. Your mental health is your mental health. No one else is an expert in it.

Any final words on the subject of coping with stress at work? What is the one message you would like our members to take away?

Our wellbeing at work is critical. It is important that we recognise in ourselves and in others when we might be moving away from it. The earlier that you can act, the more likely that you're going to be able to have some preventative or protective action that enables you to move back to health. Don't delay it. The earlier you can have the conversation, the better.

Mental Health at Work is a not-for-profit, Community Interest Company and part of the Mental Health Foundation. Their mission is to improve working lives through changing attitudes and behaviour around mental health. If you are interested in building capability around workplace mental health in your organisation you can contact them at [email protected]

Advertisement