As attitudes towards mental health change, and we all become more aware of the issues that face many of our colleagues and employees on a day to day basis – it's important for organisations and employers to ensure they are supporting their teams in every way possible. CABA, the wellbeing charity shares advice on creating cultures that help to manage stress in the workplace

How to create a workplace culture that manages stress

The past few years have seen many traditional taboos broken and developments in the workplace have reflected this, such as the introduction of shared paternity leave and the increasing conversation around the impact of the menopause at work. There has also been an undeniable increase in the awareness around mental health. Conventional thinking around the topic, which promoted a stiff upper lip, now seems to be in the minority, and to many, it feels as though the environment has changed, and mental health issues can be addressed and discussed within organisations. Many companies now have designated ‘mental health first-aiders’ and are more knowledgeable on mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety. 

With this progress in mind, it may come as a surprise that, according to research by The University of Leicester commissioned by CABA, when it comes to asking for help, 70% of the chartered accountants who responded admitted being reluctant to do so. The same number also believes that they should be more self-reliant when dealing with issues. So, whilst the internal infrastructure to support employees is often in place, it’s surprising to see that the mind-set of personnel hasn’t adapted as quickly and there is a reluctance to use their services. Certainly, within the workplace, asking for help can mean the difference between success and failure, and therefore needs to be encouraged and demonstrated as an open line of communication.

Considering that, further research carried out by CABA last year found that 4 in 10 employees are close to breaking point at work, so how should businesses and HR departments create these healthy workplace cultures, where employees feel safe enough to ask for help?

Here are a few steps designed to help adapt a more positive company culture:

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Talk about mental health openly in the office

Lengthy or more frequent exposure to stressful experiences may increase the likelihood of an employee developing a common mental health difficulty such as depression or heightened anxiety. Early opportunities to discuss mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, especially if you’re already concerned about an employee or team, will help you to create a culture that talks openly about health issues.

It’s not just battling stress that can be enhanced by asking for help at work, but team performance can also benefit. Having an open and clear dialogue will create a culture of trust among not just employees and their seniors, but also within teams. Companies that endorse and cultivate networks that support mental health may also see positive changes in the number of sick days, and a higher level of productivity as their employees are less likely to suffer from built-up pressures and stresses, thanks to the ability to discuss their issues and receive suitable support from the outset.

Solution-focused and collaborative approach

Employers and employees need a framework that promotes a solution-focused approach. This should provide opportunities to identify difficulties stemming from workplace factors and discuss ways of managing and implementing reasonable, time-limited adjustments. These could be things such as: demands, control, support, relationship, role and change.

This framework enables individuals and teams to feel included and gives them a voice when considering effective adjustments at work. More importantly, it’s not designed to be a punitive process but provides a space where all parties can move potentially difficult circumstances forward. It also allows employers to monitor whether adjustments and interventions are actually having the desired effect and reducing the experience of stress at work.

Promotion of support strategies

We know that early intervention is key when supporting employees who may be experiencing difficulties and that it helps them to recover more quickly and stay at work. An open conversation is an ideal opportunity to talk through the various support mechanisms your workplace promotes. This could include counselling and occupational health services to flexible working opportunities and information on any training courses you offer to increase personal confidence and skills-based competency. It will also help you to reassure employees that it’s OK to use these services and how effective they can be.

Early intervention

If you notice an employee whose performance is dropping and whom you might be concerned about, it’s best to try to identify any workplace issues that may be driving difficulties or exacerbating them. Even if an individual’s difficulties are coming from other areas of their life, it’s appropriate to make effective, reasonable adjustments to reduce any unnecessary pressure on them at work. One thing is certain, situations often don’t resolve themselves in isolation and a proactive, supportive approach may just avoid lengthier periods of absence.

For more tips, tools and resources to help you take care of your mental wellbeing and empower others to do the same, visit