Mental health in the workplace: the easy ways managers can support employee's wellbeing
The world of work is more flexible and dynamic than ever before, with remote options creating new job opportunities, offering a better work-life balance to employees, and allowing people to save time and money on their (now optional) commutes.
That being said, it’s still vital that we work hard to promote good mental health in the workplace. With surveys suggesting that a growing number of people across Europe are suffering from symptoms of burnout, it seems as if supporting employee’s wellbeing should be top on our list of priorities, not least of all because the World Health Organization – which recently recognized burnout as a medical condition – has laid out that it is actively making us worse at our jobs.
What is burnout?
Burnout is the “occupational phenomenon” that seems to be impacting employee mental health and wellbeing on every level.
“Burnout is caused by prolonged or excessive stress which manifests as a state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion, combined with doubts about competence and the value of your work,” explains Eugene Farrell, mental health lead for AXA PPP healthcare.
“It can be described as a persistent and severely unmanaged reaction to stress in the workplace.”
What are the symptoms of burnout?
According to Farrell, the majority of burnout symptoms are similar to those we experience with stress and other mental health phenomena – although this is a condition that is largely linked to the workplace.
Symptoms to watch out for include:
An inability to concentrate
A sense of disconnect/isolation
An upset stomach
Chronic workplace stress
Reduced professional efficacy
Craving substances like alcohol or cigarettes more often.
What can managers do to support employee wellbeing and promote good mental health in the workplace?
While it’s important to be aware of mental health conditions such as stress and burnout, it’s just as important to support employee wellbeing in the workplace. A good defence is, after all, the best offence!
Bring in an employee assistance program (EAP): a virtual EAP provides staff with confidential counselling from anywhere, so they can access help whenever they need it – whether they’re working remotely or in the office. Be sure to stress that they can access the EAP for help with any and all subjects that are impacting their sense of wellbeing, no matter whether they are personal or workplace-based.
Offer wellbeing-based employee benefits: from free access to meditation apps, to discounted gym membership, to personal wellbeing days, there are plenty of ways to ensure that your employees are able to access mental health-boosting benefits in the workplace.
Promote a culture of connectivity and positive communication: a sense of disconnect can contribute to stress, burnout, and other mental health conditions, so be sure to take the time to keep your team connected. Regular get-togethers and team-building activities are a great way to promote healthy relationships and a sense of wellbeing in the workplace – not to mention encourage colleagues to reach out to one another for help and support when they need it.
Encourage people to take regular breaks: Dr Anneli Gascoyne, Associate Professor in Occupational Psychology at Goldsmiths University, explains that skipping lunch and working overtime is a big mental health no-no. “Trying to maintain focus for long periods of time is counterproductive,”she says. “Because, over time, we’re depleting our mental energy and often don’t notice that happening. By skipping lunch we’re potentially making that situation worse – we need food (preferably the fresh and healthy kind!) to help restore our energy.” Be sure to lead by example and take regular breaks, get away from your desk for lunch, and clock off on time: your employees are more likely to prioritise their wellbeing if they see you doing the same.
Appoint a mental health ambassador: just as you have first aid responders in an office setting, so too should you have mental health ambassadors. There are courses available that can train people to spot the signs and symptoms of common mental health issues, provide non-judgemental support and reassurance, and guide a person to seek professional support. Use them.
Make sure people use their annual leave throughout the year: employees are more likely to experience burnout if they are working 24/7. Encourage people to use their annual leave throughout the year and be sure to do so yourself – and talk about how you will be switching your emails off when you do so; modelling healthy behaviours will encourage your team to set the sort of boundaries that promote and protect good mental health.
Ask them if they’re OK: it’s important to check in with your team members on a one-to-one basis – not just to talk about their ongoing projects, but to ask them how they really are. Be sure to listen, give them space to talk, and encourage questions and concerns.
Be flexible and inclusive: if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that there is no one size fits all approach to the world of work. Encourage people to promote their own good mental health in the workplace by offering them the opportunity to design and preserve their daily schedules. Be flexible. Be inclusive. Because, by offering your employees the chance to set the boundaries they need, you’re far more likely to see a boost in their wellbeing!
And remember, people are far more likely to talk about their own wellbeing and mental health experiences if others do so, too. Set up monthly “Let’s Talk” summits at work and encourage people from across the company to shake their stories and break the stigma. It’s time to normalise mental health challenges. By being transparent about our personal struggles, we are more likely to foster a sense of trust in our employees – and this will encourage them to speak up about their wellbeing when necessary, too.