Okay, so we’re all aware of Mental Health issues and that it has a tremendous impact on employers and the UK economy as a whole. But what is it we’re actually talking about and what should we actually be focussed on as employers?
What is mental health?
According to a government definition,
“Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.”
However is a business environment we most often approach the topic of Mental Health from the point of Mental Health issues, i.e. when problems have occurred. Training and guidance tells us to look for signs of mental ill-health, such as:
Eating or sleeping too much or too little
Pulling away from people and usual activities
Having low or no energy
Feeling numb or like nothing matters
Having unexplained aches and pains
Feeling helpless or hopeless
Smoking, drinking, or using drugs more than usual
Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, on edge, angry, upset, worried, or scared
Yelling or fighting with family and friends
Experiencing severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
Having persistent thoughts and memories you can’t get out of your head
Hearing voices or believing things that are not true
Thinking of harming yourself or others
Inability to perform daily tasks like getting to work
Mental Health policies in the workplace, such as they are, usually focus on actions to be taken once problems have been identified. This includes how to deal with someone suffering from stress, anxiety or depression, how to engage with them, what you can and cannot say or do and how to motivate them once they are back at work.
Let’s be clear, there’s nothing wrong with this, it’s all useful, it’s all valuable, even essential, but it’s acting after the horse has bolted! This is all about how to spot when someone is ill and how to support and engage with them once they are ill.
We all have first aiders in the workplace, they’re great too, but we also have health and safety policies and safe working guidelines. We’re not sending staff out into the workplace without checking if it’s safe, reliant that if they do have an accident the first aider will fix it. Yet in terms of Mental Health that’s pretty much exactly what we do, even those companies who have a Mental Health policy just have mental first aid. In other words, when it comes to Mental Health we’re behaving like all you need is a doctor and a hospital, and that you never need to worry about lifestyle, diet, sleep, exercise etc.
The reality is that to tackle Mental Health you don’t just need action after the fact, you need it before. You need to do all those things that mean that you don’t need the ‘doctor’ and the ‘hospital’. You need to have Mental Fitness.
So What Is Mental Fitness?
Mental Fitness means having an environment and behaviours that encourage Mental Health. Mental Fitness is about creating a workplace that minimises bad stress, as opposed to good stress that stretches and develops people’s potential. It’s about creating a workplace that makes people happy, that encourages creativity, engagement, communication and a positive mindset.
What It Isn’t
Some people use the words ‘Wellbeing’ or ‘Mindfulness’, and they’re very similar in meaning to Mental Fitness. But ‘Wellbeing’ and ‘Mindfulness’ have become dreadfully entwined with behaviours and messages that few real business people can respect. Say ‘mindfulness’ to many and they’ll think of organic chai tea, meditation zones and free-range yoga. Mental Fitness is not about that.
What It Does
Mental Fitness delivers a host of benefits. It creates an environment where people feel less pressured, less stressed and less isolated. It provides tools to address issues in non-confrontational ways. It opens communication so that people can talk about their mental health and state of mind without feeling stigmatised. It improves engagement, so that employees empathize with the management and company more.
Getting Mental Fitness into the workplace is about looking at the environment, the structure of the working day, workflow, management style, communications, development opportunities, workload, hiring practice and overall company culture. Getting these things right makes a tremendous difference.
Having a workplace focussed on Mental Fitness fundamentally reduces the incidence and impact of workplace Mental Health issues, the knock on of this and the incidental impact is enormous:
Reduction in mental health related sickness
Reduction in ‘presenteeism’ (When people are there but not performing)
Reduction in absenteeism
Reduction in staff attrition
Reduction in errors
Increase in quality
Reduction in wastage
Increase in pride in work and the company
Increase in internal communication
Increase in overall happiness of the workforce
Increase in employee drive and commitment
Improved employer brand
Easier hiring/reduced recruitment costs
Increased bottom line
We’re not talking about having morning meditation classes, or indulging people who don’t want to work. We’re talking about creating an environment people enjoy, managing them in a way they respond to positively, working with them so that they see that there is benefit to them and to the company. It’s about communication, respect, engagement and, yes, happiness. If you get it right you not only get less issues with Mental Health, you get a better company overall, one you and everyone in it can love.