On 10th October, we ran our learning bite event ‘Happy Workplace: A Holistic Approach to Achieving Mental Wellbeing’ to mark World Mental Health Day and to kick off our own campaign, looking at positive mental health in the workplace.
We know that everyone who attended had a great time listening to our speaker and learnt a lot, but we don’t think it’s fair to limit this important topic to just those who were in the room.
So, here’s a summary of the top 10 things we learnt at our event.
1. Stress is having too much to do with too little to do it
Stress occurs when a person feels burdened by having too much demanded of them, but without the resources to do it all.
While it’s easy to think of all the bad things that can make us stressed – too much work, anxiety, time restrictions, illnesses and so on – the causes of stress aren’t inherently negative. For example, new parents love their children and would definitely consider them a positive addition to their lives, but they can still become stressed by all their new responsibilities.
Not all stress is bad. We need some to give us energy and motivation to achieve things. It’s when we have sustained periods of stress without recovery time when we experience problems.
2. A ‘Holistic’ approach means considering all sides
Taking an holistic approach means that there needs to be a coordinated effort between an organisation, the management and leadership teams, and the employees.
During a group discussion, some ideas were suggested for improving an organisation’s culture. The simplest of these was making sure employees actually know which mental health services are on offer to them and how to access them easily
Another suggestion came from someone working at a company with a lot of remote workers, meaning they can’t easily check in with people’s wellbeing when they’re not in the office, so they’ve recently adopted a specific internal mental health worker to check in with staff.
3. Support and control make all the difference
Workloads are one of the biggest causes of workplace stress, but they don’t cause stress on their own. When an employee feels properly supported by their manager and their colleagues, they will be much more resilient. When they are empowered and have control over what they do and how they approach it they feel less stressed by demands made of them.
Stress comes from feeling overwhelmed and out of control. When someone is given a huge workload, with no control over what they’re doing or how they’re supposed to do it, their stress will be much higher than if a manager asks them if they’re okay and how they want to proceed.
We also learnt that there’s a big difference between talking about being supportive and actually being supportive. Make sure your organisation takes specific and practical action, and doesn’t just pay lip service to the idea.
4. Managers need training too
The entire room agreed that organisations could train their managers better. People are often promoted because of their competency in their job, not for their people managing abilities, which means they run their teams poorly and their employees suffer. It’s almost certainly more stressful for the managers too.
Some ideas were shared to help with this problem, such as employees appraising their managers just as much as managers appraise their employees. We also spoke about the importance of transparency, with some managers leaving the office early, without their employees knowing if they’re going home or if they’re heading out to a long evening full of meetings. When employees have a better idea of how their managers work, they’ll feel more connected to the bigger picture.
5. Too many people don’t ask for help
30% of staff said they don’t feel able to talk to their line managers about their stress.1 This is a worryingly high number of people that suffer in silence. For some, it’s because they don’t have a good relationship with their manager, and for others it’s because admitting they feel stressed feel like admitting defeat.
It’s important to support both managers and their employees to overcome these hurdles.
6. There’s a difference between the important things and the urgent things
Being more organised will help you to separate the urgent, last-minute or time-sensitive things on your to-do list from the things that are genuinely important. So often, we spend our time at work fighting fires and catching up, without having a chance to do anything else.
The Eisenhower Model, also known as the ‘First Things First’ model, allows you to split your tasks into four quadrants:
Our speaker pointed out that what you consider important or urgent isn’t necessarily what others will consider important or urgent. Building on this, an audience member said how frustrating she finds it when time constraints and resource limitations keep her stuck on the left-hand side of the grid.
Another attendee offered a solution: find ways to communicate your workload with the people you work with. They suggested some digital tools for this, but any method of showing your managers, colleagues or clients how much you already have on your plate – in order to set realistic expectations and filter out the least important tasks – sounds like a good idea to us.
Another contribution from the audience was for managers/all of us to consider how much we’re adding to other’s stress through quadrant III requests. Do you really need to? Consider the impact first.
7. The real costs of workplace stress
15.4 million working days are lost each year to mental health problems.2 As we learnt, a lot of this is avoidable. Burnout takes an average of two years to fully recover from, but if we were more careful about looking after ourselves and others, many people would never reach this stage.
Workplace stress creates a loss of productivity, absenteeism, presenteeism and increased turnover. This loss of productivity due to stress, depression and anxiety at work are estimated to cost global businesses $1 trillion every year.3
8. People need recognition
When someone works hard, they want to be noticed and have their efforts recognised. People don’t mind a heavy workload so much if they know they aren’t on their own and that people actually appreciate their efforts. It’s a very simple and very easy way of showing support, but it’s also easy to overlook when everyone’s so busy and wrapped up in their own things. It shows someone cares enough to take time out of their own busy day to say thank you, or to recognise something good you’ve done.
Members of the audience mentioned ways that they personally like to be recognised. Some liked public praise, while others preferred things to be more personal. There was even a brief mention of bonuses.
9. What to look out for
There are a number of important signs in yourself and in others that might signal they’re suffering from stress.
If you feel tired and lethargic, have trouble relaxing or sleeping, have become forgetful and have a reduced attention span, you may want to reach out for support. Low and acute levels of stress can be manageable, but if things start becoming too much, do not be afraid or shamed to ask for help.
If you notice that your colleagues are increasingly withdrawn, irritable, have started making a lot of uncharacteristic errors in their work, are over sensitive and are their working many more hours or seem to have given up, it may be helpful to speak to them and see if they are okay.
Sometimes, just acknowledging that you can see they’re having a hard time can be enough to help them.
If you haven’t already, complete our self-assessment questionnaire.
10. You need to look after yourself
Using the example of a plane, where you’re told to put on your own breathing mask on before helping others, our speaker explained that you aren’t going to be any use to anyone else if you’re struggling with your own stress.
When asked how many of us give ourselves enough recovery time, only a small minority of people raised their hands. Life and work are always pulling us in many different directions, but we need to give ourselves time to stop, breathe and recover. Often, giving ourselves a bit of recovery time when we’re feeling tired will make us more productive than if we power through without a break.
To learn more about mental health in the workplace, explore the rest of our campaign
1 Mind (2019) Taking care of your staff
2 Health and Safety Executive (2018) Work related stress, depression or anxiety statistics in Great Britain, 2018
3 World Health Organisation (2019) Mental health in the workplace: information sheet