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16 May 2018

Wellbeing in small business: Addressing your stress

Jaan Madan, Workplace Lead at Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, shares his thoughts on this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week campaign and tells us about his organisation’s free new resource, the ‘Address Your Stress’ toolkit.

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As Mental Health Awareness Week 2018 hits the halfway point, it’s as good a time as any to reflect on the question posed by its organiser, the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) – ‘Stress: are we coping?’. To help answer this, earlier this week my organisation, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, partnered with MHF to publish the results of the largest ever UK stress survey.

Conducted by YouGov, this research looked at experiences of stress across society, from family life to the workplace. For the latter, it revealed a generational divide in how millennials and baby boomers experience stress at work. Over a quarter (28%) of millennials said they feel that powering through stress at work is expected, compared to only 12% of baby boomers, with more of this younger generation reporting that stress impacts their productivity (34% vs. 19%).  

Perhaps most concerning of all, the research found that only 14% of people across both generations feel comfortable talking to a manager about stress. I say most concerning because, for me, tackling unhealthy levels of stress in the workplace starts with a conversation – and a conversation that everyone should feel able to have. Transparency is key to a healthy, happy workplace culture because if employers, managers and leaders aren’t aware of the issues impacting employees’ wellbeing, then they won’t be in a position to offer the support needed.

In response to these findings, MHFA England are this week launching the ‘Address Your Stress’ toolkit: a set of practical resources to help everyone better understand and manage stress. These are designed to help people reflect on the coping strategies they’re using and, if needed, take steps to reduce the impact that unhealthy levels of stress can have on our health - both mental and physical. We want to empower people to talk about stress and ensure it’s something everyone feels comfortable addressing in the workplace.

In my organisation, the first item on the agenda in all line management meetings is the individual’s wellbeing. This ensures our staff have the opportunity to raise any concerns, and have an open and frank conversation with managers, all of whom are trained Mental Health First Aiders. If work-related stress is impacting an employee’s mental health, we’re then able to take steps to look at how we can best support them - whether that’s signposting them to self-help information, our Employee Assistance Programme or professional services. 

The impact of stress in the workplace is undeniable. According to the Health and Safety Executive, every year around half a million people experience work-related, stress, depression and anxiety, with more than 12 million working days lost as a result. This means there’s not only a ‘human’ case for prioritising employee wellbeing, there’s also a clear business case.

As employers, we take steps to safeguard our employees’ physical health - workplace desk assessments are a standard preventative measure for musculoskeletal issues, for example. But our health is both mental and physical and so it stands to reason that we should take action to support employees’ whole health. The Mental Health Foundation’s research highlights that there’s more work to be done here, with only 7% of working age people believing that employers treat hazards to mental and physical health equally. 

Stress is something we need to acknowledge as one of these hazards and whilst it can motivate us, too much stress, too often, can have a negative impact on our wellbeing. As employers and employees, we all have a part to play in creating healthy working environments, and looking at how we manage and talk about stress is a key part of this. So as we celebrate Mental Health Awareness Week, let’s all take a moment to reflect on whether we, and those around us are coping, and if not, take action to address our stress

To download the ‘Address Your Stress’ toolkit visit: mhfaengland.org/mhfa-centre/campaigns/mhaw2018 and find out more about Mental Health First Aid training for your workplace at: mhfaengland.org/organisations/workplace