Wimps vs stoics?

Posted by Derek Mason

25th April 2023

Picture credit: Amy Hirschi on Unsplash

How do you keep your business healthy? To some extent it’s about having goals in mind and working hard to hit them. For example, keeping a close eye on lead flow and revenue and taking action when things are off track. But what about the health of the people in your business?

There are signs that within our industry, many of us are not as healthy as we appear. A survey of engineers carried out by training and recruitment company, Equal Engineers, found that 25% of the 904 respondents had considered self-harm or suicide. This is a higher proportion than most of us would expect, me included. It’s worth noting that these engineers were surveyed towards the end of 2021, at a time when the UK had been through lockdowns and other restrictions. Most people were dealing with multiple stressors throughout the pandemic, but the statistics are still shocking.

What’s going on beneath the surface?

These stats show that we’re often unaware that the people we work with are struggling, whether they’re colleagues or employees. And this happens because we’re all encouraged to remain stoic, to “get on with it” and not talk about how we feel. The culture has moved on a bit since the days when you were seen as a wimp if you talked about your feelings, but there’s still more work to be done. So how can we improve mental health within our industry and within our own businesses?

One thing I’ve learnt, as a business owner, is that often I can be the biggest problem. I’m the one working too hard, putting in the hours in the evenings and at weekends, and sometimes working in a way that is unsustainable. This means I have less time for the activities that keep me healthy in both body and mind – like running – and it also models an unbalanced lifestyle, which I wouldn’t want my team to emulate.

Therefore, it’s my belief that you need to look to the business owner or manager to set an example to their team. By working sensible hours, you are indirectly giving your team permission to get up and go home at the end of the day, rather than work late. And by maintaining hobbies and outside interests, you encourage your staff to lead a rich life outside work. Of course, there is more to mental health than hobbies, but quality time away from work is certainly a good start.

Remote work vs travelling to the office

If you don’t have a fully remote set-up, how do you balance time in the office with time working from home? I now work from home one day per week, which means I spend less time commuting, and can also keep our dog company on that day.

I’ve found that my staff like to come into the office as it makes it easier for them to learn and for us all to collaborate on projects. However, everyone has different preferences and commitments, so allowing flexibility in this can be good for morale – giving people the choice demonstrates your trust in them. But if you do have staff working largely from home, you’ll need structures in place to check in with them and keep team morale high, so no-one ends up feeling isolated or out of touch.

Thriving at work: legislation and recommendations

While good employers generally care about the health of their staff, it’s useful to know what your legal obligations are too. We use an HR consultancy to ensure we comply with the latest legislation, but what are your responsibilities when it comes to mental health?

There are some legal obligations around this. For example, the Health and Safety Executive guidance for stress in the workplace states that employers have a legal duty to assess the risks to employee health from stress at work and share the results of any risk assessment with staff.

But there are also some interesting recommendations that you may not know about. These came out of the “Thriving at Work” report after the government commissioned Lord Stevenson and Paul Farmer (then CEO of Mind) to independently review the role employers can play in supporting employees with mental health conditions.

Their recommendations include:

  • Encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available if needed,
  • Provide employees with good working conditions and ensure they have a healthy work life balance and opportunities for development,
  • Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing.

Much of this is common sense – things like sitting down and having a regular 1:1 with individual team members, which we do every month with each employee, to get a sense of how they’re doing and to discuss career development – but some of it is more challenging. We often find it hard to talk about how we’re feeling, so it may take time for people to feel comfortable talking about mental health at work. The important thing is that we make a start, so that we can keep people healthy and fulfilled, and reduce the number of people feeling low enough to consider harming themselves.

I hope this gives you food for thought about changes you can make in your own business. As always, if you need assistance with the structural elements of an upcoming project, please do get in touch.

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