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Reduce staff absence and improve wellbeing with these 5 mental health tips

People Management

Reduce staff absence and improve wellbeing with these 5 mental health tips

Updated: 19 October 2021

Mental health issues can have a big impact on your employees, your business and yourself as a business owner. 70 million work days are lost each year1 due to mental health problems in the UK, so putting the right support in place makes sense for financial reasons, as well as for personal wellbeing. 

The pandemic has added unique stresses and strains, and there are new challenges as we adjust to new ways of working. In a survey conducted this year, half of workers said they have experienced at least one symptom of burnout and four in ten said that work stress had impacted their personal lives this year alone. 

To help you understand how you can provide support for your staff, Spill – the mental health support service for businesses – give their tips on some of the key steps you can follow. 

1. Make sure employees feel psychologically safe within your business

Psychological safety starts with basic good practice when it comes to the structure of work. Clear expectations, reasonable demands, support: all the usual suspects.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) outlines six key areas of work that, if not properly addressed, make us feel psychologically unsafe, stressed out and anxious. They are:

  1. Demands — this includes things like workload, work patterns and the working environment
  2. Control — how much say the person has in the way they do their work
  3. Support — the encouragement, recognition, training and resources provided by the company, manager and colleagues
  4. Relationships — this includes promoting understanding and dealing with unacceptable behaviour.
  5. Role — whether people understand their role clearly, and whether the company ensures that there aren’t conflicting or unnecessary roles
  6. Change — how change (large or small, and external or internal) is managed and communicated by senior people in the business and managers

HSE has a great workbook (PDF) that goes through each of these six areas in turn, with templates for employees and their managers to discuss, as well as a load of practical ideas on how to improve in each area.

2. Make sure employees feel psychologically safe with you and other managers

As a manager, you set the example for others to follow. There are a few simple things that you can do that will allow others to speak up, be more open and ultimately feel more safe and confident.

  1. Say ‘I don’t know’ in front of other people — we don’t hear this often from our superiors, but it demonstrates openness and allows others to admit it too
  2. Being clear with work-life boundaries — tell the team when you’re clocking off, don’t email on evenings or weekends, and say when you won’t do something on time. All this helps employees to set better boundaries themselves
  3. Admit to mistakes and failures — this can be done in a light-hearted or serious way, but be open about when you did something wrong. This allows others to do the same and not be petrified of failure
  4. Asking for criticism and inviting conflict — hoping that people will feel comfortable giving feedback isn’t enough. It’s the responsibility of those who are more senior to ask for constructive criticism and start debate

3. Make sure employees feel psychologically safe with other employees

Interestingly, this is where some employees can feel most psychologically unsafe, as competitiveness, office politics, misunderstanding and passive-aggression can easily crop up between peers who work together — especially in the new remote or hybrid world.

To prevent this, foster as much honesty and understanding as possible. The more honest we are with each other, the more we understand each other as whole people, and the less likely we are to misinterpret actions, feel resentful or competitive, or assume the worst.

The absolute bible when it comes to encouraging honesty and understanding in teams is ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team‘ by Patrick Lenconi. It’s written as a fable, so it’s more readable than the average management book. Here are two exercises from the book, and two more that we’ve also found to be really effective:

  1. Personal histories exercise (~20 minutes per person). Ask each person to speak for around 10 minutes on number of siblings, what life was like growing up, experience at school, first job, worst job, and so on. Then give 10 minutes for questions (often the questions are the best part). This helps team members to see one another as human beings with interesting stories and backgrounds
  2. Strengths and weaknesses exercise (~15 minutes per person). Best done in groups of less than 10 people. Everyone writes down the single greatest contribution that each other person makes to the team, and the one area that person must either improve or eliminate for the good of the team. Everyone then speaks through their response, focusing on one person at a time. Ask the person hearing their responses to reflect on how they feel about it. The aim is for it to be at times uncomfortable, but never personal
  3. Life graph’ drawing exercise (30 minutes in pairs, then 10 minutes to present back to the group). In pairs, each talks about their life, from birth up until now. The other listens intently and draws out their highs and lows. When presenting back to the group, each person shows and talks through their partner’s graph — and then the partner is asked how they felt about it
  4. Desert island discs’ exercise (45 minutes in pairs, then 10 minutes for each pair to present back to the group). Inspired by the radio programme, this is a great exercise for helping to understand other people through music. In pairs, everyone picks five songs they would take with them to a desert island. They can also take one luxury item (but it can’t be anything that could help them to get off the island). They then discuss their choices and the reasons behind them. When presenting back to the group, each person explains their partner’s choices and what they learned about them that they didn’t know before

4. Don’t just talk about mental health – take action!

Pledges and promises are easy, action is not. It takes work and consistent commitment to create workplaces that are truly psychologically safe.

  1. Have a mental health policy that is widely communicated and accessible to all. Writing a mental health policy is a big deal and one that takes the input from people across the team. Spill created a complete guide to writing a mental health policy which has pointers on how to write your own policy, you can download it via this link. Once you have your mental health policy, make sure it’s well communicated to the entire team and is revisited throughout the year.
  2. Make mental health goals and measure them. It’s important to have a sense of how you are doing against tangible goals. You can set goals on anything you think will help make your workplace a more psychologically safe place to be. It could be:
    • Onboarding external mental health support (like Spill) 
    • Reworking management training
    • Introducing mental health days into your quarterly work calendar

Track your progress with regular feedback surveys, they’ll also give you early warning signs on any areas that could be a toxic danger zone.

5. Remember that doing nothing is the biggest risk of all

A strong culture can be one of the organisation’s most valuable assets but, if bad habits seep in, it can create feelings of fear among employees and morph into a toxic environment. By measuring psychological safety regularly, and by implementing processes and habits to embed it in your company, you can preserve your culture and keep it healthy too. 

Spill is an all-in-one mental health support for businesses, used by Huel, Citymapper Funding Circle and over 450 companies. Vist for more info.

This is a guest blog from Spill, the all-in-one mental health support for businesses. Over 14,000 employees now have access to therapy and mental health support via their workplaces. Huel, Citymapper and Funding Circle are some of the 450 companies already offering Spill. ‍To find out more about how to protect your culture from toxicity and to take our Psychological Safety Questionnaire, visit our page.

  1. 70 million work days missed in the UK –

Great Review: