202001 PIW TOG Thomas House 5323
December 11, 2019

mental health in the office

puppy being hugged
puppy times are good times

considering mental health in the workplace

By Ella Bowman, guest blogger

Our work lives can often be the lynchpin of our happiness. Through them we grow, gain confidence and experience, overcome challenges, make friends, expand our networks, deliver successful projects, get recognition, and even receive awards. Our work lives can be the making of us.

The opposite can be true, too, where the pressures to maintain a trajectory of success; to work peaceably with people (that we don’t necessarily like); to work on trickier projects, or projects we don’t feel passionate about, nor motivated by; to be biddable to brute force management; and all to pay our bills and put food on our plates -- it’s a lot to weather if you have a balanced emotional state. Work can be tough, sure, but it’s often especially overwhelming for those that are wrestling with mental illness.

don’t shy away from conversations about mental health

Headlines with admissions of celebrities’ difficulties with mental health are rife. When HRHs Harry and Megan aren’t speaking openly about their mental health, then the Archbishop of Canterbury is sharing the fact he takes antidepressants as no big deal and correctly so. The conversation has been very front-of-mind as it needs to be.

And we do need to continue to confront the truth of it. Often we talk about mental health euphemistically, and club all mental strain together as one ‘low spell’, one ‘stressful year’, or that we’ve been ‘out-of-sorts’. The trouble is that poor mental health isn’t always something you can categorise until you’ve come out the other side. And it doesn’t always hide away in bedrooms and take a noble vow of silence*. Sometimes it’s in plain sight, on the bus, in the office, enjoying its hold on the everyday. It can manifest in so many different ways, whether as a short temper, defensiveness, criticism, pessimism, desperation, anger. It can feel (to the sufferer and those around them) like a personality change, a terseness difficult to be around, and as such a person can dismantle their lives in a way about which it's hard to be understanding.

Before we get back to the puppies (in a minute, I promise), I’ll add the facts that people with a long-term mental health condition lose their jobs every year at around double the rate of those without a mental health condition. This equates to 300,000 people, or the whole of Newcastle or Belfast. And every year it costs business £1,119-£1,481 per employee whose mental health needs are unsupported.

there is a business case for creating a mental health-optimised company culture

People often talk about mental health being ‘like any other illness’, and that’s true. It can be feverish and feel hopeless -- the flu that doesn’t have a temperature -- but when talked about in the workplace, it carries an emotional burden that is intimidating: what if I say the wrong thing? This isn’t a refuge, it’s a business! Get my employment lawyer on speed dial!

All sounds a bit bleak, doesn’t it? Happily, it doesn’t need to be. What is your dream office environment? Focus, productivity, understanding, consistency, trust -- these are places you can track back from, making steps to get there that you can all enjoy. Yes, this includes creating a wellbeing programme as a first step… one that includes the scientifically-proven calming effects of puppies (puppies! I did promise I would).

More than a novelty, Paws in Work give teams the opportunity to step away from their desks, even if for only 15 minutes, to break up their day, recharge a bit, and provide a highlight for the working week that isn’t only merit-based. And it’s not just anecdotal. Time with animals helps increase your body’s production of oxytocin, the anti-stress hormone.

So, Ashley and the team at Paws in Work help bring people together under a common appreciation for a lovable litter and provide a space in which people can talk about mental health in a meaningful way, whilst improving their mental wellbeing as they do so. It’s a way of being attentive to employees in a way they won’t expect but will be grateful for.

This is just one of the many ways you can approach your company’s mental health that can put you in a better position to meet business objectives with your motivated, enabled and loyal team. Sounds far-fetched? We’ll touch on why it’s not next week, and with lots more recommendations for how to improve office wellbeing. Stay tuned.

*I’m being sarcastic here: please don’t suffer in silence, but speak to a mental health practitioner, or visit Mind.org.uk, who have lots of recommendations on how to get the help and advice you need. Again, please don’t suffer in silence.

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