How a Growing Focus on Mental Health is Changing Workplaces for the Better

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Throughout their lifetimes, approximately one in four people experience mental health problems. The most common of these problems are anxiety and depression, with almost 8% of England’s population suffering from a combination of these problems at some point in 2016 alone.

Unlike a physical illness, these conditions are often hard to spot, and many who suffer with mental health problems may appear – to most people, at least – to be totally fine. They maintain relationships, they attend social engagements, and, maybe surprisingly, they go to work. Perhaps because of this, there is a huge stigma towards people with mental illness. We can’t see it, therefore we judge it negatively – or worse, ignore it.

But what impact does that have on people in the workplace? Not just individuals dealing with their own problems, but people whose relatives are sick, or whose friends are having difficulty coping with life. And what about the workers who pick up their colleague’s slack or bear the brunt of their bad days when they come around?

Mental illness might only be directly experienced by one in four people, but research has shown that 90% of people have been affected in some way by poor mental health (either their own or someone else’s). Astoundingly, only 1% of people disclose those struggles in the workplace.

In response to these figures, SAP is implementing a whole new initiative for how businesses talk about and respond to mental health and wellness – and it’s going to change workplaces for the better.

How can businesses adapt to encourage better mental health?

The most fundamental thing a business can do to promote wellness amongst its employees is to assure them that health – both good and bad – is just a part of everyday life. We all have it, and the vast majority of us will encounter problems with it.

“The most important thing for leaders to do is tell their stories about where they have struggled in their lives,” said Dr. Stew Friedman during a panel discussion at SAPPHIRE NOW. “When you talk about challenges you have faced in your life that have made things difficult for you and the people you love who depend on you, other people are then made more comfortable sharing their stories. It becomes more normal to be talking about life as a part of our work.”

The SAP Global Mindfulness Practice was introduced a couple of years ago, and already a number of prominent companies such as Siemens, Procter & Gamble, and Deutsche Telekom have jumped on the opportunity to offer their staff ‘Mindfulness Practice’ programmes. These schemes are designed to promote better awareness of one’s happiness and mental health, and to identify areas in a workplace that could be a detriment to those things.

When people understand that it’s ok not to be ok, they are more likely to speak up about how their work life is affecting them in that way, and hopefully offer some practical, precise feedback on what in particular is causing problems. Perhaps the environment is too high-pressure, or certain colleagues/office cultures are harmful, or it could just be that they need to take some time out.

But, of course, the onus will always fall to employers to ensure that their staff are happy and healthy – and having a clear focus on mental health in the workplace is the best place to start.

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