Blue Monday is fast approaching – January 15. It’s “the most depressing day of the year”, when we are all at our most melancholy according to psychologist Cliff Arnall. The post-Christmas January blues have set in and it’s peak month for divorce lawyers and job searching. A new job isn’t necessarily the answer though. Work, complain though we do, is not all bad.
Work can be very good for us – it can provide much-needed direction and a sense of purpose in otherwise difficult times. And employers have a responsibility to help us to maintain our well-being at work. This is not only the ethical thing to do, but it can also be really beneficial for the employers themselves.
In an ideal scenario, employers would be there for us at difficult times with an understanding ear, offering a culture of mutual support. But equally they would not demand or expect disclosure where an employee did not wish to do so.
I am currently carrying out research on the effectiveness of free mental health and well-being tools that can be used at work and, while the results of this research are still waiting to come in, there are nevertheless a number of principles that we already know can have a significant positive effect for an employees well-being. Here are five ways that your boss can help improve your well-being:
1. Keep busy but not overloaded
It’s important to have a busy routine that offers purpose, but which does not overload you with work. The busy bit here is just as important as not overloading you. We know from research that it is important to be kept busy and that boredom leads to stress and fatigue. At the same time we also know that overloading an employee with more work than they can manage is a bad idea.
The key here is balance – we want to be occupied, but we want achievable tasks and goals.
2. An element of control
Research has long been telling us that employees having a sense of control in their job is vital for well-being. This is not always easy to achieve, depending of course upon the nature of the job – but it is not impossible.
Even where employees may not be able to control the job they are doing – such as in manufacturing work – the ability to chose to move to a different part of a factory or to work on a different part of an assembly line, or simply the ability to have some say over shifts or when they have their breaks can make a lot of difference.
3. Interest and support
A line manager that is actively interested in the physical and mental well-being of employees and the impact of work on this can make a big difference. Being comfortable discussing this with employees and providing opportunities for development is great.
The important point here is that line managers are receptive to what it is that any individual employee may need to terms of support. We are all different, and one-size-fits-all solutions that make assumptions about what is or is not good for us are not always helpful.
At the same time, it is also vital that employers recognise the effects that their workplaces can have on employees, the maintenance of mental health and well-being is not solely an individual concern and responsibility should be shared.
4. A friendly working environment
Supportive colleagues in a friendly working environment really can make all the difference and the evidence for the benefits associated with good colleagues is overwhelming. If your colleagues are the main problem, it may well be time to start thinking about your options and what might help to better solidify these relationships.
5. Encouraging openness
Encouraging open conversations then might be the most difficult thing for employers and line managers. Open discussions about mental health have not been commonplace historically. However, if we are to ensure parity between mental and physical health issues then it is vital that people feel able to talk if they want to. These conversations can happen in a number of ways but there are also tools that might help employers to do this.
Michaela Edwards is a trustee/director of Lancashire Mind, a mental health charity.