Preserving your mental health at work

With the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continuing to require employees across the UK to work from home, it is important now more than ever to prioritise your mental health. Employees and employers alike are advised to take the time to recognise, manage and reduce stress in both their professional and personal lives.

Understanding stress and anxiety at work

Defining ‘stress’ and ‘anxiety’ can help us to understand them properly. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines stress as ‘the adverse reaction a person has to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed upon them’. Meanwhile, Anxiety UK defines anxiety as ‘a feeling of apprehension or dread in situations where there is no actual real threat’. 

Stress and anxiety are two of the most common forms of mental health issues that affect individuals in the UK. Less common mental health issues include bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. 

Employees suffering from mental health issues may wish to make use of wellness action plans. These plans can help employees to identify the aspects of their working lives that keep them well and those that cause them to become unwell.  

Top tips for managing mental health in the workplace

A range of strategies exist to aid employees in managing their mental health at work. We have highlighted a handful below. 

  • Reduce your workload. Carry out tasks in order of priority and don’t overload yourself with work. Always ask for help if you are struggling with a heavy workload and split up big tasks so that they seem less overwhelming.  
  • Take time out. Taking time out, such as going for a short walk, or even having a cup of tea, can help rejuvenate your mind. Make time for yourself so you don’t burn out. 
  • Voice your concerns to someone. Communicating your worries is vital. Whether it’s with a colleague or a friend, verbalising your concerns will only help you to address and combat them.  
  • Take part in stress risk assessments. Taking part in discussions on stress and considering what stresses you at work can help to minimise worries. Attending employer-run stress management courses and utilising stress management tools may also help you to keep workplace concerns to a minimum.
  • Plan ahead. Planning ahead for potentially stressful days or events may help to minimise any concerns you might have. Consider creating a to-do list, or mapping out a journey you’re required to make ahead of time. 
  • Challenge your mindset. Our mindset can greatly affect the way we feel. Challenging unwanted and unhelpful thoughts and embracing positivity may help you to feel less stressed when at work.

Advice for employers

It’s important that an employer takes mental health issues seriously and supports their employees suitably. Employers have a legal duty of care to support their employees’ health, safety and wellbeing, including safeguarding their mental health. 

Under the Equality Act 2010, mental health issues can be considered a disability if the issue has a ‘substantial adverse effect’ on an employee’s life; if it lasts 12 months or is expected to last 12 months; and if it affects the employee in carrying out their day-to-day activities at work. 

Advisory body Acas suggests that employers work with employees affected by mental health issues in order to make the right adjustments so that they can continue to work effectively and safeguard their wellbeing. This may include, for example, helping them to prioritise their workload and permitting them extra rest breaks.  

We all experience stress in our working life, so taking steps to identify what stresses us at work will help us to mitigate and address the issue.