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Mental Health At Work: Flipping Standards

"The overall health of an organisation is utterly dependent on the health of its employees." Brian Heyworth, HSBC (Wellbeing@Work Event 2016).

That's definitely true. Yet, according to one of the UK's leading mental health charities, Mind, "41% of people are either stressed or very stressed at work." This is echoed by the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics, their report showed a rise of 25% in the number of days absent due to mental ill-health between 2014 - 2015.

Business cannot afford to ignore these rising costs. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) suggests that there are six key standards that cause stress at work: role, relationships, demands, change, control and support. When dealt with badly, the negative impact these areas can have on the health of individuals, teams and organisations is huge. Fundamentally, for business, it affects talent retention, reputation and profits.

Of course there are many factors involved but ultimately it's people that create either a healthy or unhealthy work environment. They influence what we think, feel and say about our work. Our attitude, behaviour and communication style can all impact on other people's mental health and well-being.

Years ago, at work my colleagues and I were asked to complete a staff survey:

"We want your honest opinion - tell us what you think about the organisation, management, staff morale etc."

I was fed up at work. The atmosphere was tense. It was infuriating to be scared of saying what needed to be said. Despite my colleagues' warnings, I answered the questions truthfully.

The meeting 'to discuss' my feedback has stuck firmly in my mind. I learned big lessons in how NOT to support, encourage, listen... As I sat sandwiched between the managers I still remember their final cutting remark,

"It's really made us wonder why you want to work here at all."

Fast forward to 2016, I like to flip the HSE's six key standards on their head and use them as positive criteria to create a mentally healthy workplace.

Role: It's everyone's responsibility to foster an open and honest culture, where people talk and listen to each other. This results in greater transparency about what is and what is not working.

Support: If you are concerned about a colleague, if they seem to be having difficulties or struggling to cope, take notice and do something about it. Empathise and have the confidence to engage in conversation. Connect.

Change: New ideas suggested by colleagues are considered seriously. Even if you don't agree, listen and ask open questions. You never know where a solution can come from.

Control: When you ask for an opinion, you're handing over 'control'. That's okay!

Demands: If you want to understand how people are coping with their workload be prepared to hear the unexpected, to be flexible and to change.

Relationships: All hale, the King and Queen of the six standards! Get this right and everything else falls into place. Let go your ego, give genuine praise, have fun.

Thanks to my tough learning experience all those years ago, creating a mentally healthy workplace is now my focus, brought to life in Headtorch WORKS, our dramatic e-learning programme.

Are you up for the challenge? For the next month, monitor the six standards closely.

On a scale of 1 - 10:

- How do you experience each of the HSE standards at your work?

- How healthy is your workplace?

Flip the standards on their head:

What do you do to improve each area? What else could you do?

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