This article’s expert is trainer Dot Gourlay
“I read recently that for the first time in the year 2017/18, stress, depression or anxiety accounted for over half of all the working days lost in the UK to ill health. Can you suggest some ways an organisation can support staff to increase their wellbeing and reduce sickness absences due to these sources?”
Like it or not, there remains a very real stigma attached to stress and mental illness in the UK. From an organisational perspective therefore, a reactive response should most definitely be to support an increase in the personal health awareness of individual employees, and also in promoting supportive team working practices.
- tool box talks within the signs and symptoms of negative mental health impacts;
- training for managers and teams within risk assessment and required supports;
- widespread availability of e-learning modules for everyone to access;
- scheduled team discussions to risk assess workplace pressures and agree on required/available supports;
are all fantastic ways to encourage individuals to take ownership and for members within teams to support each other. An increase in mediums to talk openly can only support this further e.g. accessible management; EAP’s; mentors; Mental Health First Aiders, to name but a few.
However, Al Seibert was always intrigued by the fact that human beings seem to wait for problems before they react and do anything to provide some form of support – and having stress and wellbeing policies and procedures in place within organisations is only a very small part of any proactive solution here … in short, increasing, and maintaining workplace support and communication are key proactive interventions. Crum and Crum would definitely advocate this, stating that individuals and teams absolutely require awareness and support to become empowered when dealing with adversity.
Below are some of the organisational and local interventions which are vital as constants, but seem sometimes to diminish with particular ease:
Leadership motivation during change:
- Engaging with others in shared meaning, also supporting an understanding of the bigger picture.
- Utilising a distinctive and compelling message – building relationships on trust.
- Detailing the process as well as any desired outcomes in a timely manner (Bennis + Thomas / Donigian + Hughes).
Making time for support through:
- Ongoing two-way communications within an accessible and visible management structure.
- Maintaining regular exploratory and supportive 1-to-1’s between management and individuals, particularly when work pressures are high. This should primarily utilise a collaborative approach to action planning as required (Margolis + Stolz).
- Giving team members time scheduled into their diaries each month to meet others in similar roles, with the objective to openly discuss their work pressure impacts, and support requirements.
- Ensuring regular team meetings include time to explore pressure impacts as well as looking at work schedules and demands.
- Promoting mindfulness as a workplace practice for individuals and teams.
Management/team support to prioritise health and wellbeing practices in the workplace through:
- Promotion of the need for all individuals to take breaks, including micro breaks (every 90 to 120 minutes) from the work area, without fear of reprisal.
- Accessible areas to store and collect water, and the ability to drink at desks and in meetings.
- Storage areas for fresh, natural energy rich foods – with promotion of information into the benefits of eating healthily.
- Ability to step outside for 5-minute breaks (and longer) – again without fear of reprisal.
- Encouraging regular walking and other forms of exercise (Loehr + Schwartz).
Ongoing support to challenge emerging (negative) cultures:
- Ensuring individuals feel able to ask for management support to prioritise their tasks and workload.
- Reaching team agreement on how to manage emails, to minimise any negative time management and workload impacts.
- Prioritising face-to-face and telephone communications as far as possible.
Have fun – because:
- Social support is the key buffer against stress.
- Seeking novelty and innovation allows your brain to thrive and reinvigorate itself.
- Laughter is not only the best therapy from a psychology perspective, but the human immune system seems to love and be strengthened by it too
(Gilkey + Kilts).
All references taken from HBR’s 10 Must Reads On Mental Toughness , 2018
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