Mark Nixon of Arco on mental health in the workplace

25th May

Mark Nixon, senior health, safety and wellbeing consultant and trainer at Arco Professional Safety Services, discusses how organisations can create a supportive working culture

I have worked in occupational health and safety for more than 27 years. It’s always been an area I’m incredibly passionate about. This passion for health and safety extends to mental health and wellbeing, an area in which we are amid a growing crisis. I have expanded my skill set by becoming a certified mental health first aid (MHFA) instructor and now work every day to support the mental health and wellbeing of my colleagues and employees in my clients’ organisations. I also deliver stress and mental wellbeing management and adult mental health first aid courses across the UK.

It was Mental Health Awareness Week earlier this month and this year’s theme was loneliness, a highly relevant topic. Coming off the back of a series of isolating lockdowns and with many organisations implementing a hybrid work model, the potential for the impact of mental health and loneliness at work is at an all-time high. Loneliness is an excellent example to highlight the key strategies that every workplace should employ to support employees’ mental health. It also raises the topic of the stigma around mental health; despite much positive progress, transparency is still often perceived as taboo.

When explaining the approach to creating a supportive organisational culture I ask people to consider the three Vs:

Visibility

When it comes to mental health and challenging the stigma, visibility is often the first important step to improving an organisation’s culture and supporting employees who are struggling. Whether the issue is loneliness, depression, anxiety etc. originating from work or home, no one is going to want to take the daunting first step and share their concerns if they aren’t confident that there is already a positive and trustworthy culture in place. Visibility around mental health means clear and honest attitudes and actions from the top down in an organisation. This can come in many forms, such as counselling provisions, select staff trained as mental health first aiders, staff with mental illnesses talking openly about their experiences, a change in company policy or statements. The provision itself is less important than the intention behind it, acceptance. Once a supportive culture is established, those who need help will feel recognised and visible themselves, and able to seek support. 

Value

In addition to visibility, employees across any organisation need to feel valued. How and why an individual feels valued is highly subjective and unique to their particular role. However, an absence of value placed on an individual’s contributions to the workplace can have a significant impact on their wellbeing and mental health. When considering value and its relationship to mental health we once again come to organisational culture. A rewarding and positive culture is essential – an employee who feels their efforts are valued is less likely to fall into a depression. Additionally, if an organisational culture already feels unsupportive and employees feel undervalued, it is incredibly unlikely they will come forward seeking mental health support.

Voice

Finally, the need to have a voice and to be heard is vital for an open dialogue around mental health. Ensuring employees have a voice means listening to the worries and concerns of an employee or colleague, which is not an easy task. It can feel an enormous responsibility. It’s not always about saying the right thing but simply listening and understanding. My experience delivering various mental health and stress related training sessions has shown me that it is crucial for organisations to equip managers and support staff with the necessary skill set to aid colleagues during difficult periods.

During my time as an occupational safety consultant, I have been in the business of safety, seeking to protect workers and prevent injuries in the workplace. When it comes to mental health, the approach should not be any different. Training and a carefully considered organisational culture provide the framework for the three Vs: visibility, value and voice. Challenging the stigma is an ongoing process, but we can make the workplace a better and more inclusive place.

To find out more about the range of mental health and wellbeing training provided by Arco Professional Safety Services, click here.

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