Niki Fuchs: Support your employees’ mental health with these key changes to the workplace

Businesses and employers are facing growing demands and expectations to provide for the mental wellbeing of their employees. Although ‘Blue Monday’, (20/1/20) allegedly the most depressing day of the year is behind us, it is still a reminder that supporting employee mental health should be a priority all year round. There are signs showing that mental health issues are on the rise, affecting many people across the UK’s workforce every year and we have a responsibility as employers to keep our teams safe and healthy.

Stress, anxiety and other mental health conditions all rank among the biggest drivers of workplace absence, significantly impacting both companies and their employees. Across the UK, 70 million working days are lost each year due to mental health problems, costing employers approximately £2.4 billion annually. In recognising this costly impact, businesses should focus on engaging with their employees and understand what they need from their workplace to best support their wellbeing, as after all – a happier workforce is a productive one.

By capitalising on the office workspace design, environment and investing in a community culture, below are some key changes and initiatives employers can be introducing in the office to support their employees’ mental health and wellbeing.

Prioritise workplace design

The physical environment of an office has a significant role to play in the wellbeing of employees. Although not obvious, the smallest of climate factors such as room temperature, air quality and natural light can have a substantial impact on our mood, productivity and overall mental health. Eliminating obstacles that obstruct natural light and introducing adaptive sensors for air quality and temperature control requires minimal disruption and provides huge benefits.

Carefully designed aesthetics of the workplace can also encourage an enjoyable working atmosphere and positivity. Colour, artwork and graphics can invigorate spaces, making staff feel uplifted, resulting in boosted mood and greater productivity.

Deploy the right technology

Workplaces are beginning to evolve and adapt, progressing forward with the newer technologies that are available to us. Faster connections and efficient processes has meant technology has the capability of relieving us of much of the administrative burden while working, including saving us valuable hours – time better spent focusing on ourselves and mental wellbeing.

We now have access to a variety of mental health apps and support systems, connecting us to online therapists and GPs, through mobile devices with just a touch of a button. By encouraging employees to use such technology, it is a simple and effective way of engaging with employees to support them in managing their own mental wellbeing.

Create a community

With the rise of remote working, hot desking and emerging sophisticated technologies, we are spending a greater length of time apart from colleagues. However, simple human connections with others around us are actually pivotal to our mental wellbeing. Employers should look to foster a community within the workplace by prioritising the social element of work, such as break out spaces, team socials and activities. Businesses need to think more creatively in how they encourage social interaction in the workplace. Introducing regular opportunities for employees to get together such as bake sales, quizzes and sporting competitions can go a long way to upholding a strong sense of community.

Create the right culture

The culture of a workplace can be a true determining factor of how employee’s mental health are supported by their company.  Creating the right culture where staff feel appreciated, valued and trusted is essential for employees to maintain a heathy relationship with their working environment and subsequent wellbeing. Encouraging an open and honest dialogue where employees feel they can raise their hand and say ‘I need a bit of extra support’ ultimately leads to earlier intervention and a better outcome. In general, raising the general awareness of mental health through such an open culture can promote a sense of inclusivity and reduce the stigma associated with these conditions.

Consider mental health first aid initiatives

Many employees are still reluctant to recognise or seek support for their mental health challenges – yet we need to be driving these conversations to have any sort of impact. Introducing first aid initiatives associated around mental health to help cultivate a healthy learning environment can help employees to recognise signs of stress – not only in themselves but also their colleagues. A co-ordinated approach that allows others to look out for each other means employees feel in a safe place to talk about it, enabling those who require the help to get the most appropriate help fast.