Positive steps for better mental health at work


It’s that time again when nations across the globe celebrate World Mental Health Day (10th October) and organisations and individuals throughout the world lift the lid on their experiences of poor mental health, raise awareness of the issue and share their insights into how to help.  But when it comes to the issue of improving mental health at work, are businesses doing enough?

Mental health at work

Mental well-being at work is always a hot topic; reports in the media and government publications are rife with the news that people are suffering from high levels of stress and low level metal ill-health, and that generally, good mental health seems to be lacking in the workplace.  Obviously this is not an ideal scenario for anyone involved; poor mental health is a significant contributor to low productivity, poor engagement, absenteeism and high staff turnover, which is bad for business, and it simply makes the individual feel wretched, which is bad for their health. 

But while the traditional approach to dealing with mental health focusses on what’s wrong and how to fix it, some experts suggest it might be time we start looking at things a bit more positively and begin using this approach to help people improve mental well-being at work. 

When it comes to the positive psychology approach the onus is placed on the individual to take control of the way they perceive the world and to try and reframe their thinking to view things more positively.  Some experts have suggested that by taking this approach it can lead to benefits such as lower levels of stress, increased productivity and engagement at work, and generally higher levels of success.  However while encouraging your employees to have a positive outlook is a good step, there’s little a company can do to directly influence this, so it may be that small practical strategies can help encourage a more positive perception of work. 

Some ideas to encourage more a more positive working life

  • Give praise – Regularly – In many businesses there is an indoctrinated view that people should be regularly made aware of how they can improve, and only given praise on the (rare) occasion they excel at something.  But really this is doing your employees and consequently your business no good.  People do better when they feel motivated, and generally people feel motivated when they know they are doing well.  Therefore offering praise is a simple tactic to help improve morale, and it doesn’t have to be a big song and dance, a simple ‘that was great work’ when warranted can do wonders.
  • Help people set goals – Similar to getting praise, people like to have direction, and helping them to set regular goals, both short and long term, offers people something to focus on and aim for.  Providing they are mutually agreed (i.e. not a decree from management) and have benefits for the individual’s development, goals can help people feel much more positive about their contributions to the business and more appreciated too.
  • Promote a work-life balance – This is one many companies claim to do, but struggle to put in to practice.  It’s particularly common in competitive work environments for people to feel obligated to work past their contracted hours to ‘stay on top’.  This may sometimes have short term benefits, but once employees start suffering from stress, anxiety or depression, and taking time off, it suddenly turns out to be a bad idea.  Actively encouraging people to have a real work-life balance will not only enable them to enjoy their lives outside of work guilt free, they will be able to bring this enjoyment and apply it to the work they do.  Win-win.
  • Flexible hours – This can be a big part of creating a better work-life balance, especially for employees who commute a long way.  Obviously this isn’t always practical depending on your business, but should be offered and honoured where possible to allow people more freedom in their work; it also helps them feel trusted which is another powerful morale booster.
  • Encourage social connections – never underestimate the power of the social environment at work when helping encourage positivity.  Even employees having the worst day can find an immediate boost in the support of their colleagues, and if that means the occasional break from work to chat about their personal lives, it will be worth it to establish a more positive and supportive atmosphere for employees. 
  • Lead by example – If you are managing employees, then presenting a positive attitude in your own approach is a vital aspect of cultivating it your workforce, and as any good leader knows, attitudes are contagious.  So if you present a positive, enthusiastic attitude to your work, your employees will naturally respond and act in kind.  Just be ready for the boost in positivity you’re likely to see emerge; it can take you by surprise if you’re not ready for it.

Monitoring and managing emotional health in the workplace is covered in issue 5 of Enhance.