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Safeguarding mental health and wellbeing in the workplace

It is estimated that one in four people experience a mental health issue in any given year, and that one in six employees is depressed, anxious or suffering from stress-related problems at any one time (Source: Labour Force Survey – Health and Safety Statistics for Great Britain. Health and Safety Executive, 2015).

Sarah Stranks, Health, Safety, Quality and Environment Manager (HSQE)at Thomson Environmental Consultants  provides some tips and strategies that work.

Although not always apparent, mental ill health is common, and the causes are complex and unique to each person. However, we know that, in addition to other causes, work can trigger or aggravate some of these issues.

As a responsible employer, the mental health and wellbeing of our teams here at Thomson is taken very seriously. Our workforce is diverse and as an environmental consultancy, we have many people out of the office in all weathers at sites across the country and travelling long distances. It is important therefore to make sure that they feel supported and cared for in the workplace. Below are just a few of the initiatives that we have in place to help reduce workplace stress, improve mental health and to encourage any of our employees to seek help if they are struggling.

Mental Health First Aiders: A mental health first aider is a suitably trained person in the workplace that is available, without notice, to speak with someone who may be experiencing the symptoms of mental ill health or feeling like an existing condition is worsening.

Five staff from across Thomson’s offices have been through training with Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England to become qualified mental health first aiders. The two-day course covers issues that people can face, helps the First Aiders to recognise the symptoms of potential mental health problems and looks at the best ways for people to work through and overcome them. MHFA have found that if people who are experiencing the early symptoms of mental ill health feel able to talk about them – particularly in the workplace – it helps prevent the problem escalating into something more serious.

Mental health first aiders are given the training to offer initial support and then signpost people towards available resources or professional advice, if necessary. In some situations, line manager involvement could be useful in adapting day-to-day work-life balance. By having trained staff on hand, and supportive line-managers, the aim is to promote wellbeing at work and support good mental health.

It is important that staff know that it’s okay to talk about mental health and that the company they work for are willing to make reasonable adjustments to help them do their job.

Education: Research has shown (source: New Economics Foundation) that learning provides the right stimulus to help ease symptoms of mental ill-health. On-going education at work is key in how we do things and not only do our multitude of internal and external training courses help people develop their skills and careers but hopefully help them to enjoy their work experience and boost their confidence.

Flexible working; for many people it is important that they can balance work responsibilities around personal commitments. In order to meet the needs of many different staff, flexibility can help ease the pressure of a range of issues including family commitments, study opportunities or simply work-life balance. By allowing your staff to work the hours they need to between the office and home, you as a business demonstrate trust and in return, the obligation is that the work gets done on time. Flexibility is key for us as a business, allowing us to scale our workforce up and down as required. We have a clear flexible working policy that is available to all employees. Our junior ecologists are often employed during our busiest period over the summer and then choose to go travelling during the winter months when the intensive field resource work tends to be quieter. They then pick up with us again the following season, something that works well for both parties and allows them the freedom to pursue their own life experiences if they want to.

Be social: Exercise is a well-known strategy for helping to reduce stress and aid mental wellbeing. Time away from your desk at some point in the day is important even if it’s just a walk around the block or a lunchtime fitness class. Discounted gym memberships and organised outdoor adventures and activities are also great for encouraging staff to be sociable and making them more active and engaged with their work and colleagues. For instance, we have groups that have tackled challenges such as the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge or taken part in beach cleans. In our Guildford office, we have a lunchtime tradition of a game of hacky sack. This outdoor team game involves passing a rice filled hacky sack around the group with the objective of completing as many moves as possible, using no hands. This is inclusive of all departments in the business, helps de-stress by getting people outdoors, and can help improve working relationships and bonds in the workplace.

I hope that these ideas have inspired you to think more positively about how you can keep your staff active and engaged – good for your business and great for both a healthy body and mind.

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