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Mental Health Awareness Week: Prova PR’s workplace self-care

Charlie Ward Account Executive

Every year, the Mental Health Foundation hosts Mental Health Awareness Week (13th-19th May) and it trends nationwide as millions come together to encourage people to open up and know that the world is becoming a safe space to talk. Here, Charlie Ward, Account Executive, discusses workplace mental health and what Prova PR is doing for Mental Health Awareness Week. 

Talking about mental health has always been important but it hasn’t been until recent years that we’ve been more encouraged to do so. Content online about self care and mental illness has rocketed as people turned to search engines for help. Even though online content is great and helps people feel less like they’re alone, it is no match for face to face acceptance.

Awareness weeks such as Mental Health Awareness Week aim to encourage people to talk openly about their worries and make struggling not taboo but something to be shared, helped and respected.

1 in 6.8 people are experiencing mental health problems in the workplace in the UK

According to the Mental Health Foundation, 1 in 6.8 people are experiencing mental health problems in the workplace in the UK. Evidence suggests that 12.7% of sick days are attributed to mental health conditions. The same study suggests that better mental health support in the workplace can save UK businesses up to £8 billion per year.

Relating this to our own business, the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) report showed that 59% of PR and communications practitioners have suffered from mental ill health. 37% of employees said they would not feel comfortable discussing their mental health with their manager and, more worryingly, 90% said they had no formal mental health policy. 

With this in mind, and our continuous efforts to support our own team, I’ve decided to share some ways to acknowledge mental health in the workplace. In addition to this, every day I will set the Prova team a challenge, the results of which will be shared on our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ProvaPR/):

1. Personal reflection helps you to understand yourself

Mental health can be a baffling thing. It’s hard to define and understand it even if it’s your own mind. Personal reflections help you to take a step back to look at issues and emotions and identify the causes and hopefully work towards a solution.

There are plenty of campaigns such as Time to Talk, Head Together and UOKM8? that focus on encouraging people to talk about their mental health. Talking can bring out things about yourself that you didn’t realise. It might also help you identify mental health triggers or events that cause you to feel low or demotivated.

Triggers can include painful anniversary dates, being criticised, yelled at or even loud noises or strong smells. It can be hard to identify them but they help to predict when you might feel overwhelmed or distressed and manage it as it happens. Sometimes there is no real reason for the mental illness episode but it’s important to keep track incase you find a pattern.

Mind, the mental health charity, offer ways of spotting signs of stress or mental health in the workplace and can be a really important tool for managers. Benenden Health’s recent Mental Health in the Workplace Report revealed that more than four in ten (42.4%) employees have suffered from work related stress and attributed their poor mental health to either increased workload, financial concerns or workplace bullying.

42.4%) employees have suffered from work related stress

As you learn more about your mental health by acknowledging and reviewing it, you might help to identify which self care routines help the most and where you could change your life to improve your wellbeing. From there, you can tell people what helps, spot early warning signs, keep a mood diary and build up your self-confidence.

The Prova PR team’s first day challenge is to take some time to assess their own mental health for Mental Health Awareness Week. Check out how they did on our facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ProvaPR/

2. Know when to take a break – or encourage your colleagues to

Whenever someone at work asks me, “Have you taken your break yet, Charlie?” because they’re worried I’m going to work over my lunchtime, I always feel like someone has my back. Getting outside at lunchtime is really important to me and I recognise that I am much happier and more productive when I come back having been out of the office. Recognising that you need a break can help not to overwhelm your mind or cause burn out.

Whenever someone at work asks me, “Have you taken your break yet, Charlie?” because they’re worried I’m going to work over my lunchtime, I always feel like someone has my back.

An American study by Tork showed that nearly 20% of North American workers worry their bosses won’t think they are hardworking if they take regular lunch breaks and 38% of employees don’t feel encouraged to take a lunch break. In the UK, Total Jobs found that a third of UK employees never leave their workplace after they arrive in the morning. More than half of the 7,135 people surveyed don’t take their full lunch break, even though two out of three feel encouraged to do so.

Psychology Today found numerous psychological studies that show the benefits of taking a break at work. It describes how moving improves physical and emotional health, prevents “decision fatigue” and restores productivity and motivation. Workplace Strategies for Mental Health run a “Take a break” campaign to get employers to encourage employees to do activities on their breaks by providing activity packs. Breaks are clearly an important tool for improving workplace mental health. 

The Prova PR team’s second day challenge is to take a break and let us know how it made them feel for Mental Health Awareness Week. Check out how they did on our facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ProvaPR/

3. Check in with your co-workers

Talking about mental health in general can be nerve wracking, let alone telling someone at work. It is probably less likely that you’ll talk to your boss about your personal problems but you need someone to talk to. If there aren’t individuals at work that make it okay to talk about mental health problems, or things that are worrying them, then the likelihood of someone opening up if they’re struggling gets smaller. We need everyone to aspire to be that person and then the idea of sharing doesn’t seem too terrifying.

A 2017 survey carried out by Time to Change, found that a higher percentage of individuals surveyed would be more comfortable talking about physical health, money problems and sex than they would talking about mental illness in the workplace. Just 13% said they felt like they could discuss mental health issues at all. Considering our own business sector, the PRCA found that, while 54% said they’d spoken to colleagues about their mental health, 61% still said they have never spoken to their managers about it. This shows that there is still a perceived stigma associated with the topic.

A 2017 survey carried out by Time to Change, found that a higher percentage of individuals surveyed would be more comfortable talking about physical health, money problems and sex than they would talking about mental illness in the workplace.

Goff McDonald, co-founder of minds@work, reveals that an unnamed senior director of a company walked into a mindfulness class his company was running, surveyed the room and said, “So, these are the people who cannot cope in my company.” The class was to tick a box rather than to change the intolerance for people who are struggling. With stories like this, no wonder we need to work harder to convince people that it’s okay not to be okay.

The Prova PR team’s third day challenge is to check in with a coworker and see how they’re doing for Mental Health Awareness Week. Check out how they did on our facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ProvaPR/

4. Take stock of mental health in your workplace

One of the many helpful resources on the Mind, the mental health charity website is about taking stock of your workplace mental health. They outline that it’s important to know what employees, mental health is like before you can begin improving mental wellbeing or finding out if your existing strategies are working. Collecting information about employee experience, organisation culture and mental health doesn’t have to be difficult.

Employee experience can include workload expectations versus reality, clarity in what their role is and will be, knowledge of their personal development, and how they feel about their problems being addressed. Organisation culture includes views on work/life balance, communication within the company, if employees feel listened to, and general working relationships. Mental health includes confidence in managers, staff perceptions, support pathways and policies within the company.

Information can be collected via staff satisfaction surveys and policy reviews. By carrying out regular surveys, you place good mental health and wellbeing as core assets of your organisation. Not only are you creating a great place to work for your existing employees but you appear to be a good place to work for from the outside. At the end of the day, adopting strategies for staff retention and supporting employees’ mental health can save the costs of sick pay, employing temporary staff, recruiting and re-training new staff.

In the PR world, the PRCA provides a mental health toolkit for PR professional and businesses. Some of the content, such as the infographics can be applicable to a wide range of sectors, not just PR. Having the resources allows for an effective internal mental health campaign. It may be worth checking out your industrial body resources.

A 2017 study by Mind, the mental health charity, on work-related mental health problems suggested that 60% of employees say that they’d feel more motivated and more likely to recommend their company if their employer supported mental health and wellbeing.

60% of employees say that they’d feel more motivated and more likely to recommend their company if their employer supported mental health and wellbeing.

The Prova PR team’s fourth day challenge is to ask yourself, “What makes you proud to be Prova?” for Mental Health Awareness Week. Check out how they did on our facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ProvaPR/

5. Take time to give positive affirmations to your team

People thrive in atmospheres that promote positive feedback. It can be easy for individuals to only hear the negatives. Forbes identifies a global study that reveals 79 percent of people who quit their jobs cite ‘lack of appreciation’ as their reason for leaving. Therefore, providing positive affirmations is a no-brainer.

8D is a popular problem-solving technique used first in the automotive industry to improve processes. It identifies eight steps to identify and fix quality control issues. The very last step on this eight-discipline technique is “congratulating the team.”

The very last step on this eight-discipline technique is “congratulating the team.

At Prova PR, we share “shout outs” in our Monday morning meetings, giving the team a space to highlight the great work our coworkers have done in the past week. Many Prova team members work on different accounts to each other and therefore will miss the outstanding work going on if we don’t make an effort to share and celebrate. It’s a great way of keeping everyone in the loop and feeling proud of the company.

Bill Gross, founder and CEO of idealab, said that when giving feedback you should use “and” not “but” when following positive feedback with negative feedback. For example, if you begin by saying, “You’re amazing at being organised and you’re a pleasure to work with but…”, psychologically everything before the “but” gets erased and “but” kicks up the individuals defenses. However, if you if make it, “You are organised and a pleasure to work with and when we work together on your writing skills, you’ll be unstoppable” the positivity sings though.

It’s important to check in with individuals. Certain mental health conditions are capable to convincing individuals that they can’t do anything right and causing them to become overwhelmed quickly. If you’ve got a co-worker who you think is really brilliant at this one thing – tell them! It might just be what they needed to hear.

The Prova PR team’s final day challenge is to increase the number of positive affirmations in a day for Mental Health Awareness Week. Check out how they did on our facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ProvaPR/

With two thirds of people surveyed by Mind, the mental health charity believing work contributed to their mental health issues, it’s time to make a change. As Rachel Royall, Chair of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations said, “It is in everyone’s best interests to support good mental and physical health: a happier and healthier workforce will be more productive, have reduced sickness and retain skilled talent. We owe it to ourselves to look after each other.”  

Thank you for taking part in Prova PR’s Mental Health Awareness Week.

Charlie Ward, Prova PR Account Executive