Are your colleagues OK?

On World Mental Health Day, Ruth Sutherland explains why we should all be looking out for our co-workers’ wellbeing

One in five adults experiences suicidal feelings at some point in their lives. We spend a great deal of our adult lives at work, so it’s likely that there are people struggling to cope in the workplace and trying to hide it. 

Often organisations put staff suicide in a box marked ‘unthinkable’, but knowing what to do if a suicide happens, and providing emotional support services, protects employees and the organisation.

Employers can play a crucial role in helping people look after their emotional health, and colleagues and line managers can provide an important social and emotional support network. 

Work can also give us a sense of purpose and accomplishment. This is particularly true for people with complex and difficult personal lives, as the workplace can become an escape and somewhere that they can thrive. 

This World Mental Health Day, we’re encouraging employers to prioritise their colleagues’ emotional wellbeing by rolling out Wellbeing in the City, our free e-learning tools that teach staff to look after their wellbeing, and look out for their colleagues.  

The learning initiative, developed with the Lord Mayor’s Appeal, is a groundbreaking programme that teaches people about emotional support and listening skills. It has already been completed by thousands of people, including employees from Bank of England, KPMG, PwC and the Civil Service. 

A happy, healthy workforce is good for business, too. Prioritising staff health and wellbeing improves staff engagement, productivity, presenteeism, and customer satisfaction. In 2016/17, 12.5m working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety, so building a more supportive workplace makes sense. 

Creating more open and supportive workplaces where staff can thrive also requires a commitment from the top. We need more CEOs to publicly say ‘this matters and we’re doing something about it’. Staff need to be given permission to step forward and ask for help, without fear of judgement. No one should have to cope with difficult feelings alone.

PwC partner Ben Higgin is supporting our Wellbeing in the City initiative. He found himself struggling during an overseas posting:

“Within a month or so, I realised I’d made a mistake and my long-distance relationship was not working either. I wasn’t settling into the work environment and I struggled with the Hong Kong version of expat life. I was also finding it hard to make new friends, I guess in part because I wasn’t being honest about who I was. There’d be days, usually at the weekend, when I didn’t speak to a single person all day. The reality was that I was desperately lonely,” says Higgin.

Higgin confided in his boss, and gradually was able to open up to people around him and find a support network. He also became a Samaritans volunteer when he relocated back to the UK, and that helped him to really listen to others, and get on better at work. He found the Wellbeing in the City tools made a big difference, adding: “What Samaritans helped us to do was to develop something that was emotional and connected on a human level.”

Of the staff who completed the Wellbeing in the City training, 92 per cent said they had more confidence to identify the signs of someone in distress, and they all said they’d be able to approach a conversation with someone in distress. 

But it’s not just about being able to spot the signs and speak to that person. They also told us that they all felt more comfortable to talk about their own mental health. And that’s huge because that’s how we break down the stigma – by getting people to talk.

For more information about Wellbeing in the City, download the brochure.

Ruth Sutherland is CEO of Samaritans