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The Importance of Mental Health in the Workplace.

This week marks the annual #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek, and with the uncertainty and concern that the Covid-19 pandemic caused, we discuss the importance of managing and supporting mental health within the workplace, whilst mentioning some of the companies paving the way for others whilst supporting their own workers.

This years #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek focuses on the topic of loneliness. Mental health in the workplace is top of mind for everyone these days, especially after the affects of the global pandemic. While a lot has changed about what we understand about mental health at work, and how widespread poor mental health is, supporting mental health in the workplace is no longer a nice-to-have, but it has now become a necessity.

2020 was an unprecedented year for most people. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit and national lockdowns were well underway, this forced businesses to adopt a remote working approach, turning everyones homes into the 'new office'.

Remote working was on the rise before the pandemic, although it was seen as a perk to a company and labelled as a rarity. Following the introduction of national lockdowns and working from home, home working became the new normal for most of the population. Even now, many employees have now adopted a hybrid approach and still don't spend the typical 9-5 in the office - but no matter your working model, keeping on top of your mental health at work is a must.

What is mental health?

Everyone has mental health, just like we all have physical health. Both will change throughout our lives, just like our bodies, our minds can also experience challenges. The World Health Organisation defines mental health as 'a state of wellbeing in which every individual realises their own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and are able to make a contribution to their community'.

People that struggle with their mental health can suffer from anxiety and depression, which are the most common conditions, however people can also experience severe conditions such as bipolar disorder or even schizophrenia. People with the same conditions can experience completely different symptoms, and at different levels. This means that workplace support needs to be tailored to the individuals specific needs.

There's still a stigma and misunderstanding about mental health within society and the workplace, and increasing awareness of mental health can help to break that stigma - this can help to build a more open and inclusive culture. There is a strong business and moral case for organisations that promote good physical and mental health for their employees. Actively promoting well-being usually leads to greater staff productivity, morale and retention, along with reduced sickness absence and 'presenteeism'.

The importance of supporting mental health in the workplace.

Our mental health can be significantly impacted by our working life, since people usually spend 50% of their total waking hours on average working. Since our job is one of the biggest parts of our lives, it's extremely important that when we're at work, we are happy, healthy and feel supported by our employers and colleagues.

There is often a perceived stigma that's attached to mental health struggles, which can result in people hiding their difficulties and are therefor reluctant to tell family, friends or work colleagues that they're struggling.

By promoting a workplace culture where mental health isn't a touchy subject, this will give people the opportunity to speak openly about it and feel comfortable asking for support - meaning that you're better able to recognise when someone could potentially be struggling and you could be more confident in responding to mental health challenges, and identifying the correct resources to help.

As an employer, it's great to recognise that mental health support at work isn't just about supporting the employees who have disclosed an existing mental health diagnosis - but instead, you have a vital role in supporting everyone, and promoting great mental health and wellbeing in the workplace as a whole, this will enable everyone to thrive in a safe and supportive environment, reducing the risk of burnout and other struggles.

Companies working towards a happier and healthier workplace.

The Covid-19 pandemic has since raised serious concerns about people's mental wellbeing. As the ongoing uncertainty continues to test many people's resilience, and most people are still currently dealing with their job demands and personal challenges - many more organisations are stepping up and offering support to their employees. Here are just some of the companies paving the way for others when it comes down to supporting their employees wellbeing:

Unilever - Unilever is just one of the companies leading the way for mental health support for their employees, offering a variety of ways to help try tackle mental health challenges. Through in-person workshops on mindfulness and manager trainings on mental health issues in the workplace, Unilever has managed to create a culture where employees feel able to seek help when they feel it's needed, and don't feel stigmatised. The company has also since created an app that offers health information and urgent assistance for employees to gain access to whenever they need it.

Virgin - Virgin offer their employees an interactive workshop called MindCoach, which gives participants stress coping strategies, as well as all their managers being trained on how to support their colleagues that are in need. "No business has any more excuses not to take action." Virgin CEO, Richard Branson.

Barclays - Barclays use employee stories to help strengthen its community and make their workers feel like they aren't alone in their mental health struggles. Their "This Is Me" campaign has in fact reduced rates for mental health issues within the company, along with increasing company retention, with employees returning to Barclays after their mental-health related leaves of absence. However, what makes Barclays different is the fact that they also offer their customers access to mental health services through their very own banking app and website.

Innocent Drinks - Innocent looks after their employees just as well as you'd think, paying close attention to their mental health. They offer a range of perks that indirectly ease their staff's work stresses such as flexible working hours, free breakfast and even a free gym membership, which encourages their staff to be happy and healthy through exercise.

Innocent Drinks also offer yoga club's, which is a great way to practise mindfulness as well as offering mental health resources that are available to all of its staff, which includes a 100% confidential employee assistance programme, this allows any employee at Innocent to talk to someone 24 hours a day.

Having an open, positive workplace environment when it comes down to mental health can make a huge difference in any employee's wellbeing and happiness, and the best companies are actively providing resources, tools and services to all of their workers so that they can seek and get the help they deserve. Although there is still quite a way to go before the modern workplace reflects the diverse needs of their employees, these employers are taking the steps to create a promising future.

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