Last week was Mental Health Awareness week. Across the country a combination of events and fundraising sessions were hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, these events were designed to encourage open conversations about our mental health and to provide inspiration for businesses and individuals looking to improve mental health services. At Forward3D, we took part by arranging mindfulness sessions, yoga classes and training for staff members on recognising and supporting mental health issues within their teams.
Of course, recognising and supporting mental health goes beyond just a week, which is why we aim to create a workplace environment where there are positive and open conversations about mental health. At Forward3D, we provide regular initiatives such as; massages, yoga, sport clubs, flexible working, regular socials, free food, Sanctus and even the occasional meditation class. We know these initiatives are a great start, but how effective are these provisions, and what more can we be doing for our employees?
Mental health is a very broad term, and part of the challenge of being able to create a supportive working environment is the need to understand the meaning of this for each individual. This years Mental Health Awareness week theme is stress. Research has shown that two-thirds of us experience a mental health problem in our lifetimes, and stress is a key factor in contributing to this. It is often the first warning sign that anything is wrong. By specifically addressing stress, hopefully we can recognise mental health issues early and provide the right kind of support.
A recent study found that over half of adults who felt stressed reported also feeling depressed, and 61% reported feeling anxious. Almost everybody at some point feels some stress. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – stress can be helpful, motivating us, getting us out of bed and helping us to succeed. It’s when that stress doesn’t work for us and sabotages our ability to thrive or even to cope with our day to day lives, that action needs to be taken. Without this awareness of stress, the problem can quickly become more serious. At Forward3D, the average age is twenty eight. At twenty eight you have so much going on; relationships, money issues, student debt, housing, getting on the property ladder, family, marriage, children - and that’s before we even look at workplace stressors!
We work hard to create an environment in which teams support each other with the day to day stress of life. We want our line managers and team leaders to be understanding of their team’s individual stresses so that they feel heard and supported. However, if you create such an environment, it is also equally important to ensure that those in senior positions don’t take on too much of other people’s stress. It is a fine balance between creating a supportive work environment, but also ensuring that no one person is too overloaded. As an example, What do you do when you hear that someone is struggling with childcare issues and tight deadlines? Having the tools to help a situation and not make it worse is a skill and a skill that does not always come naturally. Employees need to feel empowered to help reduce stressors – if you can’t help your team-mate struggling with childcare and deadlines by providing flexibility, then that stressor can be added to your own load. If you don’t have the tools to listen to your team members because you have not been adequately trained, again this can contribute to your own feelings of stress too.
So what can we do as a business to reduce the stress of our employees? In the UK we have come a long way in our understanding of the impact that mental health has in the workplace. You only need to ask your mum, dad or grandparents about how mental health was treated back in the early part of the 20th century, to realise that we have come incredibly far. Not only is there much more research into mental health and stress within a work environment, but there is a better understanding of what makes a business a great place to work. Some businesses don’t do this completely out of the goodness of their hearts because understandably profitability is a priority, but it makes sense that by creating an environment where staff want to come to work, productivity and thus profitability will increase! But this is beneficial - where there is productivity you have a successful business that is better able to invest in its employees. Increased research and a greater understanding of mental health is motivating businesses to make the right changes and in doing so it is giving the workforce the tools they need to be able to discuss what is making them stressed.
Tackling Workplace Stress: What you can do
It happens to the best of us. If you’re feeling stressed out at work, consider following these steps:
1) Tell someone: Talk to someone you trust, whether that’s your line manager or a member of HR, we cannot help what we don’t know about.
2) Review your lifestyle: Are you taking on too much? Is there room for you to make some space for self care?
3) Know the signs: tiredness, headaches and tension can be a sign of stress. Knowing the early signs can help you take preventative early action.
4) Eat Well: It goes without saying that a good diet has an impact on how you feel.
5) Bad Habits: Be aware of your drinking, smoking and caffeine intake as abuse of these things can contribute to feeling lousy!
6) Exercise: Releases endorphins which are your body’s own natural anti-depressants!
7) Time out: Make sure to take your annual leave. It’s so important to have time away from work to recharge.
8) Sleep: a good night’s sleep of ideally more than 7 hours is essential. Burning the candle at both ends will make you feel stressed.
9) Don’t be hard on yourself: You are doing great. Give yourself a break! If you find yourself getting into a negative mindset, it’s really helpful to list everything you have achieved rather than focusing on what you still feel you need to do.
10) Appreciate the small things: On a rubbish day sometimes just mindfully focusing on the little things can reduce stress. Get out of the office at lunchtime and appreciate the fresh air or listen to some upbeat music. Savour the taste of a favourite food or text a good friend. You’ve got this!