That is the question I posed to the room full of people (and one guide dog) that attended the Badenoch + Clark (B+C) event on mental health in the workplace. Sadly, but unsurprisingly, everyone bar the Labrador stood up. Equally worryingly, when then asked how many had been able to be open about their condition at work, the large majority sat straight back down.
Whilst great strides have been made in the workplace over the past few years, for instance with a number of CEOs opening up about their own struggles with mental health issues, there is still a long way to go.
B+C’s research report which found that almost half (47%) of employees with mental health issues have felt discriminated against at work, confirms this.
The good news is that it is not just possible but beneficial for companies to take active steps to help improve the mental health of their entire workforce – even those employees that aren’t directly or openly struggling with it. What’s more, as my suggestions below demonstrate these steps don’t require too much additional resource.
Consciously engaging with our breathing helps us connect to our body and focus better. When we are stressed, for example, a lot of our worries tend to focus on the future or regretting the past and mindfulness exercises such as those around breathing help bring us back to the present moment, and calm us down.
To tap into its potential, businesses could consider hosting weekly or bi-monthly mindfulness sessions incorporating these breathing techniques. There is a wealth of information and breathing exercises available online, so employees could run the sessions themselves or you can hire a professional mindfulness coach to come in every so often. Not only will most workers really use the opportunity to destress, these sessions can also pay back dividends in increased productivity. Some companies include a quick breathing exercise at the beginning of meetings to set the mood!
Gratitude is a very powerful mental health tool that organisations can easily leverage. Colleagues could share (or write down if that makes them more comfortable) three things that they are grateful for that day, either as part of wellness sessions or even regular team catch ups. This could be anything from their health, to a supportive family member/friend or even their dog.
There are entire journals and programmes dedicated to gratitude, so once you’ve introduced them to it, employees can use these tools in their personal lives too.
The importance of nutrition
It’s no secret that eating nutritious food is crucial to our physical health, and there is more and more evidence linking food to our mental wellbeing too. I’m a big believer in the virtues of the Mediterranean diet, which is based around foods such as pulses, fish, nuts, cereals, fruits and olive oils. A 2017 Smiles study in Australia found that this kind of diet contributed most to improved mental health.
Encouragingly, a lot of companies are already providing daily fruit baskets but there are a whole host of other things they can do in this area. Whilst a lot of people may think they know all there is to know about the foods they should avoid and eat more of, workshops can give them new inspiration and motivation to incorporate these into their diet. There’s particular evidence for good mood around omega 3’s, the healthy fats, as well as improved gut health. Hosting a charity bake sale encouraging people to bring in their most delicious refined-sugar free bakes, could be another fun way to engage employees with healthy eating.
Hopefully these ideas have given you some inspiration and demonstrated that there’s a lot that can be done to help your employees improve their mental wellbeing. By taking regular action to help support the mental health of your staff, you’re not just helping those employees already struggling but may even be able to prevent some from getting mental health issues in the first place.
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