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What can we do to ignite change for better mental health management?

Sep 17 2018

When was the last time you thought about how work affects your mental health – or that of your staff?

Lloyds Bank CEO, Antonio Horta-Osorio, recently revealed how debilitating stress from work almost “broke” him.

In 2011, to bring the company back from the brink of financial devastation, Horta-Osorio gave too much of himself. Despite his suffering, he never spoke about it to his colleagues.

After just eight months in his new role, sleep deprivation pushed Horta-Osorio to admit himself into a London Priory clinic. He was on the edge of a nervous breakdown, in desperate need of help.

His story, among many others, encourages us to take pause and consider work’s effect on our mental health and wellbeing.

Are we doing enough to remove the stigma surrounding stress, anxiety and depression in the workplace? What can we do to ignite change for better mental health management?

Crushing Toxic Cultures

An employee can’t recover in the same environment that potentially made them unwell. If we don’t focus on improving company cultures, the wellbeing of our workers won’t get better.

As vice president of Airbnb, Mike Curtis, puts it: “good culture creates an environment where people can do their best work, bad culture is soul-destroying.”

‘Bad culture’ – how can we define this? Tim Marsh, founder of Ryder-Marsh Safety, explains how some businesses see employee wellbeing as a “box-ticking exercise”. Mental health is recognised but not addressed with care and sincerity.

Businesses are failing their people. Prioritising productivity and profit over health and happiness is pushing employees to their limits. Like Horta-Osorio, they burn-out and breakdown.

Often, the consequences are fatal. Last year, 137 people were killed at work in the UK. Worker suicides aren’t officially monitored but they undoubtedly contributed to that number.

Building healthier, more employee-centric working cultures is a crucial step to upheaving toxic environments.

Understanding People, Not Problems

Tim Marsh advocates a holistic approach to improving business culture. That means focusing not just on preventing problems in the workplace but on the individual’s entire wellbeing – from physical to emotional – and the external factors impacting this.

By understanding the personal struggles employees face (such as financial problems, a bereavement, a relationship breaking down etc) we have the awareness needed to create wellbeing initiatives that view people as a ‘whole’. Only then can we create effective solutions.

Having programmes in place that help people who are already unwell is good. But prevention is better than the cure. This can be achieved by giving employees the tools they need to prepare themselves physically and mentally for personal challenges. For example, you could:

  • Offer mental health training for line managers so they have to power to help those in need
  • Recognise employees on an individual level and support them in finding a working style that makes them happy
  • Create a wellbeing programme that includes effective sleep training (or take a page from Google who have recently introduced nap pods)
  • Identify and support employees who have caring responsibilities outside of work

45% percent of employees who responded to a workplace mental health study admitted that stress makes them consider quitting work.

Turn this around. Help them reduce their stress levels or prepare for turbulent times ahead. Do this using a holistic approach; your employees health becomes a priority and fixes become sustainable.

A Dungeon or Sanctuary?

Your office space. What do you think of it?

Considering how our working environments impact us highlights that there is a relationship between a worker and a building. Whether that is a good relationship depends on what emotions your office space evokes.

Did you know that it’s normal for architects to design buildings that promote wellbeing, health and productivity? Why then do so many businesses neglect this area?

Looking at it from an economic point the initial outlay can be substantial. However, according to one 2011 study, people who work in an office with better lighting take significantly less sick days than those who don’t.

Absences are expensive. In fact, since 2011, they have cost the UK £18 billion. Improving your workplace aesthetics can save you a lot of money. Employees are happier at work and are less likely to take leave because of poor mental health.

Go Natural

Biophilia is a term used for our innate affinity with the natural world. Business owners around the globe are using biophilic designs to improve their employees’ wellbeing at work.

How does nature affect our brains? The Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim recently studied the brain activity of healthy city and rural dwellers to give us some insight:

“In a series of functional magnetic resonance experiments […] they showed that city living was associated with greater stress responses in the amygdala, an area of the brain involved with emotional regulation and mood.”

If that’s the case, being in concrete boxes make us vulnerable to increased levels of stress.

Whereas natural spaces make us feel calm.

Place more plants in your office. But don’t stop there. See if you can access more natural light or adjust indoor lighting. Consider what colours you feature and how they might affect a person’s mood.

Even on a shoestring budget, you can make small changes to improve your office space and help employees feel happier while working.


Over To You

Time’s running out. Employees are suffering at work – 217 million days of work are lost every year due to mental illness.

There are no fast-fixes, it takes preparation and time to improve workplace cultures and environments. But not doing anything could result in life-threatening consequences for your staff.

With the right action, improving mental health and wellbeing at work could be the best thing you ever do for your company, improving lives, driving productivity and significantly reducing staff turnover.