Why mental health matters in the workplace

Sophie Heatley · 14 May

Stress, burnout, and anxiety are some of the biggest contributors to unhappiness in the workplace.

What is burnout and why does stress cause it?

Often, anxiety and depression in the workplace stems from being overworked. A burnout is a physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress. It is an emotional state of complete exhaustion caused by prolonged strain and worry.

That said, it’s not just based on working long hours. Burnout can come from working towards goals that don’t resonate with your ambitions or philosophy, from feeling like you don’t have control over how you do your job, and from a lack of social support.

It’s important to tell the difference between experiencing a burnout and just feeling stressed. ‘Just’ feeling stressed should still be monitored with caution though, as, unfortunately, ‘just’ being stressed is the first symptom of burnouts.

Other symptoms of burnout include emotional exhaustion, a cynical or depersonalised attitude towards work, and a reduced personal efficacy.

Emotional exhaustion is when you gradually become more and more detached from your work. If you’re suffering from emotional exhaustion, you may wake up feeling completely demotivated and dread coming to work. You may experience a low mood which simply refuses to lift, no matter how bright the sun is shining or how softly the birds sing in the morning.

Cynicism also comes across in an employee’s growing disengagement from their work. One way to look out for this is to see if any of your employees have undergone a serious personality change. Are they increasingly irritable or impatient, when before they were compassionate and understanding?

Finally, burnout also rears its ugly head when it comes to productivity. If an employee is suffering from burnout, their work ethic will likely dramatically decrease in efficiency. Their output will begin to mirror their input – also a significant drop.

Your working life should not contain any of the above. Employees should not be encouraged to believe that feeling stressed or burnt out is a ‘normal’ part of working life – it isn’t. 

How can companies help their employers deal with mental health?

One thing companies can do to help deal with mental health in the workplace is ask themselves: how accessible is treatment here? And, what support systems are in place to help with anxiety, burnout and depression?

Raise awareness with training and support networks  

For starters, and perhaps most importantly, the first step any company should take to combat the stigma of mental health is to help their staff become more aware of what mental health problems are and how they are manifested.

You can integrate mental health awareness into your staff training program. This could mean having e-learning courses or monthly gatherings where staff can learn how to recognise the signs and symptoms of mental health issues and learning how to deal with mental health matters.

Use your resources

Most companies have newsletters. In each newsletter, a column could be dedicated to encouraging staff to avoid any self-destructive behaviours in the workplace. For example, employees should be advised not to overwork themselves because they think it makes them look better.

The column should provide links to mental health awareness sites, or alternatively, to the company’s own e-learning platform for mental health if they so choose to develop one.

Likewise, pretty much every company now has Wi-Fi! So, encourage staff to check out mental health webinars too for advice and guidance.

Mindfulness meditation  

Many companies encourage staff to participate in wellness activities now. For example, meditation sessions or even corporate yoga classes. WeWork, for example, organise an array of wellness events for members of their co-working space.

Any kind of activity that enables relaxation, switching off or de-stressing should be encouraged among staff – even if it’s a 10-minute Tai-Chi session in the office reception!

Consider environmental factors

Toxic working environments can be corrosive to our mental health. Have a quiet spot where people can go to have a break from their computer screens and the buzz of the office workspace.

While not all companies have the budget to have a common room or lunch space away from the main office, if this is the case, staff should be encouraged to leave their office desk at lunchtime, rather than crunching away at their sandwich while ploughing through emails. The brain needs a break, no matter how much work is left to do.

Encourage group activities

Group activities, similar to the wellness activities mentioned above, are a great way to help staff loosen up a bit. Having a staff sports team can help with group dynamics. Team sports and games can help create a certain level of intimacy between colleagues, which is a great way to develop a good rapport in the workplace.

While it isn’t necessarily professional to discuss personal issues throughout the day at work, it’s great if members of staff feel like they can open up to colleagues for advice for guidance.  

Group discussions or 1-to-1 support

If you’d rather not people discuss their problems in the middle of the client meeting, organise set meetings for staff to open up about changes they think will help with their wellbeing in the workplace. With this in mind, consider the fact that some people prefer open discussions, some people prefer privacy. Both should be catered for.

Personal and open support like this shows staff that they are not alone in their struggle.

Is the end in sight?

There is still a lot of progress to be made. The main thing companies can work towards is encouraging people to seek help.

While the stigma surrounding mental health is slowly but surely breaking down, many are still afraid to open up about their issues. We can make a change though, whether that’s through having your own hub like Perkbox, or starting your own mini-campaign to help raise awareness at your office.

Whatever your company chooses to do, do something. You might just save a life, never mind a job.

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