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How to stay mentally well in the workplace

9 Apr 2019 By Sue Covill

The NHS is tackling mental health at work – and every organisation can follow suit, says Sue Covill

Jobs that are rewarding and worthwhile can be great both for mental health and a general sense of wellbeing, and there is strong evidence that workplaces with high levels of mental wellbeing are more productive.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, having wellbeing addressed at work increases productivity by as much as 12 per cent. Employees tend to perform better when they feel valued and supported, which gives them higher levels of wellbeing.

Good mental health at work and good leadership go hand in hand. It’s paramount employers know what needs to be done to better support the mental health of their staff and that opportunities are provided within the workplace to enable this support to be provided and accessed.

So what can we do to keep ourselves and our teams mentally well? NHS Employers has two toolkits designed to support the mental health of staff in the NHS.  The ’How are you feeling today?’ toolkit helps staff talk openly and regularly about emotional health, assess the impact emotional wellbeing has on ourselves, our colleagues and our patients, and help staff to action plan to enable more good days than bad.

NHS Employers and Mind, the mental health charity, also developed a free toolkit specifically for the ambulance service, Head First, which is applicable to all. It guides employers on how to look out for their staff and support their mental wellness, the steps to take when someone is having a tough time and how to develop a positive culture where people feel comfortable talking about mental health. 

What employees can do

It is important to look after your own mental health, to make sure you are OK and have the freedom and confidence to deliver your role in the best way you can. One way to look after yourself is to start noticing how you are feeling, reacting and behaving, and any changes that might be occurring. This can be a key indicator that you may need to talk or access support, and enables you to take steps to look after your own mental wellbeing.

It can be helpful to take stock of your emotions and make sure you do the small things, like taking regular breaks and keeping hydrated. These are often the things we stop doing when we are not feeling our best. It’s also important to acknowledge how you feel and monitor your emotional reactions. Talking with someone else about your problems always helps

What managers can do

Managers should think about how they can support their staff to maintain good mental health and what they can do to support and develop a positive culture that enables staff to talk about mental health openly and get support when needed.

It’s important that managers know their team and colleagues, know what support is available and how to access it, and how their organisation supports the mental health of staff, which they can demonstrate through their leadership role. Managers need to act if they see someone having a tough time and provide support. Even just asking colleagues if they're OK can be a huge support.

What organisations can do

Creating the right organisational culture that supports good mental health and having the right leadership is critical to support and promote the mental wellbeing of staff. It’s important organisations know their staff and organisational data and provide information on what support is available and how it can be accessed.

It’s also important for organisations to set out an approach for supporting staff wellbeing, and to set expectations and measurements so this can be reviewed and changes made where needed.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to mental health – but these steps will help to address the specific challenges facing your workforce and help you improve the overall mental wellbeing of your staff.

Sue Covill is director of development and employment at NHS Employers

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