Through my own research and reading I have pulled together some key elements that appear again and again which contribute to creating a work environment that is conducive to good mental health.
1) It comes from the top. Not just in what is said or in policies that are written; but in the form of true leading by example. For example an organisation may say they encourage employees to have a good work life balance; but if leaders are emailing their people at 10 o’clock at night, behaviourally they are doing something very different. They are silently setting a precedent that ‘this is what we do here.’ Similarly does an organisation say they ensure that their people get the downtime and breaks that they need; but at the same time regularly ask people to take a shortened lunch or come in on a day off? Yes, things happen from time to time and people are often very obliging but where is the line and has it been crossed where these things are accepted as the ‘norm’?
2) Seek regular feedback. Not just in annual employee opinion surveys or as part of a formal 121. But in every interaction a leader has with their people whether it be formal or informal. Take the time when the opportunity arises to ask someone how they’re doing. But actually wait for the response, and ensure time has been set aside to listen to the answer if that question is asked. Some self-disclosure here, if relevant, goes a long way in making that other person feel comfortable in that it will be okay if they open up. It is so important that organisations build environments where it is safe to ask for support as very often when mental health issues are caught early, the recovery is much quicker.
3) Training and education. Did you know severe anxiety has the same disabling factor on a person as a stroke with long term consequences? And here is one of the problems- when people have never experienced what it is like; or don’t have the education to understand the disabling factors of mental illness, it is very difficult to be genuinely empathetic. This then poses a problem of making it even more difficult for someone struggling with their mental health to open up because they don’t receive the non-judgemental listening and empathy they deserve. Lack of training and education also poses the problem in terms of being able to then go on and effectively support someone because there is a lack of understanding as to what will truly make a difference.
Yes, there are lots of factors that contribute to a mentally healthy workforce and ensuring these become embedded within the culture are vitally important to ensure it becomes a way of life and not a fad. Consistency is key and underlying it all is very simple; make people feel they can ask for help by ensuring they feel understood and listened to non-judgementally. Then be in a position to be able to offer or guide them to the appropriate support they need. Ensuring that any leader or line manager has the education to be able to offer the relevant support required. If people feel that help will be there when they need it; it takes the pressure off in having to feel ‘okay’ all the time. Being able to offload and seek support and guidance in times of need knowing that no one will think less of them prevents a build up of worries, anxieties and stress. Which ultimately contributes to a great working environment, especially when added in a great focus around employee well being.