Is good mental health supported in our workplaces? - Emerge UK
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Is good mental health supported in our workplaces?

There’s been a lot in the news recently about people’s mental health, changes to clinical funding, and society’s attitude to the subject in general. But how is the issue dealt with in the workplace?

A recent survey of more than 15,000 employees, conducted by City AM, shows that, in general, staff feel their mental health is good. However, in respect of respondents who felt their mental health was not what it should be, almost half blamed pressures at work as the cause.

And, despite numerous news reports and a more open attitude to the issue in general, those who deemed their mental health a problem believed there was still a stigma attached to the condition. This stigma was cited as the reason many employees don’t seek support – particularly from their managers. It’s also the reason why 95% of employees who take time off for ‘workplace stress’ give a different reason to managers for their absence.

Whilst some companies have focused on their employees’ stress and anxiety levels at work, providing confidential helplines for employees to access support, for example, it’s clear more could be done. However, ‘mental health’ is a typical ‘umbrella’ word, covering a wide range of conditions. Should an employee receive a diagnosis for schizophrenia, or bipolar, common sense would suggest a one-size-fits-all approach wouldn’t work – the treatment of such conditions varies wildly from how stress resulting from workload overwhelm would normally be tackled.

A similar study, carried out by MetLife, questioned 1,000 employees, and found that a whopping 69% believed their manager’s behaviour was to blame for their stress. They reported that their managers offloaded any pressures they were under onto the team, creating unnecessary stress and affecting performance, with almost half of employees needing time off work as a result.

From an investment point of view, there appears to be a juxtaposition; why keep putting time, effort and money into schemes such as ‘health and wellbeing at work’, without setting aside budget for management training? Surely, to effectively treat the effect, you also need to address the cause?

This echoes one of our recent posts, which explored why people leave jobs. It’s not because of the duties they’re asked to perform, or their physical workspace, as much as their managers. Three-quarters of employees blame their manager as the reason they move on.

It’s likely that managers are put under pressure, but how that pressure is dealt with has the power to affect the rest of the team or department. Managers’ abilities to deal with stress, and their resilience, are particular aspects companies should look at, to stem the ‘offloading’ that clearly occurs. Managers should also be educated on the signs of stress, so that they can spot if a member of their team is experiencing difficulties. Signs may include a sudden lack of motivation/commitment, a change in an employee’s appearance and, of course, their absence from work.

It’s also important that employees feel they can approach their manager to discuss sensitive issues, such as stress in the workplace and their mental health, without fear of prejudice, discrimination or ridicule. Empathy and support is vital, yet these aspects are not often discussed when an employee is promoted to manager. And it’s these ‘soft skills’ that make all the difference: to the atmosphere and culture of the company, to the relationship between manager and team member, and also, to the company’s overall productivity and innovation. It’s a big deal – almost 60% of lost working days are because of workplace stress. And, if people are away from work, who picks up the slack? Their team-mates, who feel under pressure because of a heavier workload.

April is #StressAwarenessMonth, and a good opportunity for companies to assess this situation within their organisation. Employees feel less stressed when they feel good about themselves: when they’re in control of their day, when they feel supported and listened to, when they understand their value to their employer. How would you feel if you were constantly blamed for shortfalls or mistakes, if you were ignored when you needed help, or if you felt your manager didn’t trust you to do your job? It’s easy to see how such situations occur.

Our advice is, whilst there’s clearly a need for health and wellbeing schemes in the workplace, there’s as much need for management training and executive coaching. Without the latter, the former is pointless.

Marks and Spencer is one company who’s taken this approach. They sent twenty of their senior leaders on a six-week course to learn how they could instil wellbeing in their employees. Beth Ryder, M&S’ Employee Wellbeing Manager, says, “As a result of taking part in the programme, senior leaders in the M&S food business team introduced steps to prevent unhealthy working habits, such as sending emails during the weekend or late at night, and also encouraged employees to talk with colleagues rather than relying on email. Positive interventions introduced as a result of the programme also included restricted meeting length and better encouragement for employees to plan regular time away from their desks.”

A company is only as good as its people. If days are being lost, productivity is suffering, morale is low, and employees are leaving in their droves because their manager is making their lives hell, a worksheet on eating healthily, or a freephone number stuck to the wall won’t represent much support, or give signs that their company will take their concerns seriously. Let’s put this issue into an analogy any dentist would be proud of: stress in the workplace won’t disappear with a filling, it needs serious root canal work.

Management coaching is just one of the services Emerge offers its clients. We also help companies get the most from their people, at all levels, and can help change the culture of an organisation, bringing real ROI. Call 01329 820580 for more details, or email

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