How to deal with stress and depression at work?

At least 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem in the UK each year, with anxiety and depression stated as the most commonly experienced. The average person spends 33% of their waking time working, so it is unsurprising that occupational stress can be a significant contributing factor to employee’s mental health.

As well as impacting employee’s workplace stress, it also negatively impacts employers. An estimated 1 in 5 people take a day off work due to stress, meaning workplace stress negatively impacts productivity. To mitigate this loss of productivity, employers need to implement effective stress management in the workplace. This article intends to highlight some of the causes of stress in the workplace and offer solutions to minimise the negative impact these stressors have on employee well-being.

How does management style impact stress levels?

70 million working days are lost each year due to mental ill health, which means poor stress management in the workplace contributes to a loss of between £70-100bn for British businesses annually. A large proportion of UK employees admit to providing an alternative reason when they take leave because of occupational stress, and less than half of employees feel able to openly discuss suffering with severe stress with their line manager. A poor relationship with managers can lead to employees feeling unable to safely discuss problems regarding their mental health and emotional well-being. This can cause increased stress levels, poor mental health and in extreme cases, burnout.

Employers can help to tackle causes of stress in the workplace with 4 main strategies:

  1. Culture: developing a mental health strategy to raise awareness and ensure correct response to mental health problems within the workplace. To create a culture of openness and awareness in the workplace to encourage employees to be honest about how they are feeling. Download our free ‘Guide to Producing a Workplace Mental Well-being Strategy’ here.
  2. Working practices: encourage employees to take regular breaks, including leaving the office for a walk or some fresh air. Employers should also review job descriptions to ensure that expectations are realistic, so they are not asking too much of employees.
  3. Communication: use posters, emails, the intranet or newsletters to raise awareness of mental health and start conversations. Develop this further by introducing discussions of mental health during staff meetings to help to promote employees being open about how they feel.
  4. Management: ensure managers are trained to appropriately handle mental health problems and ensure they carry out steps to improve relationships between themselves and their employees.

How does workplace environment impact stress levels?

Another factor that can influence an employee’s mental health is the physical environment of a workplace. A 2006 report by the Department of Health Working Group of Arts and Health in the UK found that art has a direct impact on the mental wellbeing of staff members. This link has been replicated within workplace environments, suggesting that images of natural scenes and landscapes can help to increase the rate of positive emotional responses amongst employees.

A 2013 study reported a strong relationship between workplace daylight exposure and quality of life. Therefore, working in open spaces, with natural light and a naturalistic feel can minimise workplace stress and help improve employee wellbeing.

How can employees maintain individual wellbeing?

There are also a number of steps that employee’s themselves can take to reduce their levels of stress. The 5 ways to wellbeing, produced by the New Economics Foundation, is one well-known strategy that sets out five key actions to improve personal wellbeing:

  1. Connect
  2. Be Active
  3. Take Notice
  4. Keep Learning
  5. Give

These actions can be easily incorporated into a workplace environment, such as taking the stairs instead of a lift to stay active, or making your colleagues a tea or coffee to cause a sense of giving. For more information, please read “5 Ways to Wellbeing” by Altruist Enterprises’ Founder and Director Katie Buckingham here.

Whilst occupational stress inevitably impacts employee’s mental health, there are a number of simple prevention strategies that both the employer and the employee can take to reduce causes of stress in the workplace. Chris O’Sullivan from the Mental Health Foundation comments that “a mentally healthy workplace can be built on the back of good basic line management relationships, clear HR policy and engagement of staff in decision making”.

It is with this understanding that Altruist Enterprises has developed its Mental Health at Work: Managers programme, supported by West Midlands Academic Health Science Network (WMAHSN). This one-day training course is designed to increase managers knowledge of and confidence around mental health in the workplace. It gives managers the opportunity to explore and implement practical approaches to support their teams and the wider organisation. For more information on our one day course for managers, please click here

Maddie has recently completed a 4 year course in Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Birmingham, during which she has primarily taken modules in economics, psychology and neuroscience. She is currently working at Altruist Enterprises as a ‘Mental Health Facilitator’ wherein she goes into schools around Birmingham giving talks on mental health awareness and education on wellbeing. Maddie is passionate about educating people on mental wellbeing and believes it is such an important message for children to grow up understanding. She also works part time as a swimming teacher and has previously volunteered in specialist school for children. Next year Maddie will be working in a care home before fulfilling her dream of going travelling.

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