On average, adults spend one third of their life at work. Experiences at work have a significant impact on a person’s wellbeing - particularly their mental wellbeing. A study found that one in four people in the UK will have a mental health problem at some point in their lives, and the value added to the economy by people who are at work and have or have had mental health problems is as high as £225 billion per year.
Mental health is something that impacts everyone - it has an effect on working life and can also be affected by experiences at work. Though it may be challenging to separate out personal effects of mental wellbeing, experiences at work are still a key factor and can be looked at closely.
How do experiences in the workplace impact mental wellbeing
This is one of the most common factors that can negatively impact a person’s wellbeing in the workplace. A study found that more than one in five people agreed that they had called in sick to avoid work when asked how workplace stress had affected them. Feeling stressed can lead to high levels of anxiety where people may feel as though they don’t even want to show up for work because of how much it impacts them.
What can you do?
Ensure that your organisation supports work life balance and flexible working arrangements (e.g. part time, job swaps). It’s also important that managers and leaders demonstrate work life balance in their own lives - it’s difficult for people to want to practice good work life balance if they don’t see their leaders doing it. A good work life balance is essential to keeping employees happy and productive.
Research found that when people were working long hours more than a quarter of employees feel depressed, one third feel anxious, and more than half feel irritable. Taking regular and quality breaks is fundamental to people’s productivity, and more importantly their wellbeing.
Employees may make it a habit to work through their lunches or eat their lunches at their desks - which isn’t a real break. A study by Korpela, Kinnunen, Geurts, de Bloom and Sianoja found that taking lunchtime breaks and detaching from work, increases levels of energy at work and decreases exhaustion. People need time to completely switch off from their work and take time for themselves to relax and recoup.
What can you do?
Encourage employees to take breaks, and make people comfortable with taking breaks (and not guilty). Some people may feel pressured to continuously work throughout the day, as they may see other employees not taking any breaks, which may cause them to feel guilty for taking one themselves. If you notice a colleague has been working non stop for a long period of time, it may be helpful to remind them to take a break or even offer going for a walk or having a quick chat with them.
When employees feel as though they lack support in the workplace, this can have a significantly negative impact on their mental wellbeing especially if they’re struggling. Support doesn’t necessarily only mean support in their workload or career progression, it also means emotional and mental support.
Research by mental health charity Mind found that 30% of staff disagreed with the statement 'I would feel able to talk openly with my line manager if I was feeling stressed'. Making sure employees have someone to turn to if they ever need help is extremely important.
What can you do?
Ensure employees feel supported in all aspects of their day-to-day experiences. Creating an environment where employees feel as though they can speak up and ask for help when they need it and making it clear who they can go to for help, are important steps to support. If necessary and available, you can even bring in an external counsellor for support - if employees don’t feel comfortable speaking with their colleagues, this can provide them a safe space.
All points previously mentioned have a role in an individual’s job satisfaction. Simply put, if a person is highly unsatisfied with their job this will have a negative impact on a person’s wellbeing - especially if leaving is not an option due to financial commitments. There are multiple factors that impact an employee’s job satisfaction. It could be their relationship with their manager, their day-to-day role, lack of career progression, the organisation’s way of dealing with certain issues - the list is almost endless, and is dependent on the individual and what’s most important to them.
What can you do?
Keep lines of communication with managers open and honest. If an employee is unsatisfied with something, it’s important that managers and direct leaders are made aware and can make steps to making improvements or adjustments. Experiences in the workplace aren’t perfect, but it’s important that employees feel heard and can voice how they feel so that things can get better.
There is a long list of factors that impact a person’s mental wellbeing, and only a proportion can be directly impacted by the workplace (for some it’s a much bigger proportion than others). But it’s the duty of organisations to look out for their employees’ wellbeing, and take the necessary steps to protect it.