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Mental health awareness week: How small changes can make a big difference in the workplace

This week (13th-19th May) is Mental Health Awareness Week, hosted by the Mental Health Foundation. Every year, one in four of us will experience a mental health problem, and while we’re becoming better at talking about it as a society, knowing how to cope, where to turn, or how to help somebody who is struggling isn’t always common knowledge.

We spend a lot of our time at work, so mental health conditions and struggles will naturally come into the workplace environment. In the PR and communications industry alone, 60% of practitioners have suffered from mental ill health, according to the PRCA and PRWeek Mental Health Survey 2019. Employers have a duty of care to their employees, and mental and health and wellbeing plays a huge role in this. Not only is it in employers’ best interests to maintain corporate-social responsibility but introducing measures to improve employee wellbeing can improve staff retention, reduce sickness absence and presenteeism, and boost staff morale, engagement and performance.

There are lots of incredible initiatives and inspiring ideas being shared between businesses this week, but you don’t necessarily need a big budget to make a big difference to your workplace. Here are just a few ideas;

Offer flexibility

Offering flexible working hours and allowing employees to work from home can make a big difference. We know all too well that life isn’t always straight-forward and can throw unexpected curveballs at us! Being understanding and offering this flexibility can help your employees to juggle their work and personal lives and manage these curveballs a little easier.

Healthy body, healthy mind

There’s a strong and well-proven link between physical and mental health and many employers find that encouraging exercise helps improve team performance. Some organisations offer on-site yoga or mindfulness sessions for staff to help focus and reduce stress levels, while others have been known to subsidise employee gym memberships or classes. However, encouraging your employees to get active doesn’t necessarily require a large budget or many resources. You could consider introducing a ‘no desk lunch’ policy to make sure staff take time away from their work and screens during their break. Instead you could suggest they get the team together to go out for a walk or perhaps even do a walking meeting or brainstorm. You might be surprised how the different approach and environment can spark creativity!

However, an active lifestyle should be complimented with a healthy diet. Make sure your employees have access to healthy food. At Skout we have a water cooler, fruit bowl and grazing table, which all go down well! You could even try introducing a regular healthy ‘potluck lunch’, where everyone makes or brings in something healthy to share. Not only is this a great way to encourage a healthy diet, but it also provides another opportunity for the team to interact and bond.

Take Two policy

Some businesses operate with a Take Two policy, where everyone is encouraged to take two hours a week away from their desks to do something fun or relaxing. In the grand scheme of things, two hours isn’t detrimental to work targets and can make a big difference to staff morale and maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Learning and development

As human beings, it’s in our nature to want to learn and to continue building on our knowledge, which is why this makes up one of the ‘Five ways to mental wellbeing’.Make sure you ask your employees at appraisals and regular line management meetings if there’s any skills they’d like to be able to learn that the business could support them with. Not only are you giving the opportunity to develop themselves, but also to introduce new skills and specialisms to the business.

Provide the right support and information

Make sure your employees know where to turn and who they can talk to if they’re struggling or are worried about a colleague, whether it be your HR function or another colleague who has been trained as a mental health first aider. If those resources don’t exist within your organisation, make sure your team know how to access external support. It’s important to also bear in mind that employees may not always feel like they can talk to somebody at work, so signposting to external resources is always a good step to take.