Supporting employees’ mental health

Mental health is a huge topic of conversation in the workplace. More and more businesses are introducing ways to improve their employees’ mental well-being.

Keeping on top of our mental health is not always easy. When it’s all fine, something happens and our mental health crashes. Yet, if we can find a good work-life balance, it will make a huge difference in our day-to-day lives.

I joined Astun last year and was amazed by how mental health awareness has become more topical in the workplace. I enrolled in the Mental Health First Aid course to assist and support our employees where needed. Over the last ten months, our employees have experienced a lot of change, which is only natural in a growing business. As employers, it’s our responsibility to help all employees adapt to change, regardless of how easy or difficult they may find it. 

During the pandemic, when some other companies were making employees redundant, we retained all our staff and were able to offer increases. So, change can be good and can also make us stronger!

Supporting employee mental health at Astun

At Astun, we are committed to providing a safe space so our employees feel comfortable approaching their managers or MHFA in times of need. As we all work remotely, we aim to meet at least three times a year to collaborate, socialise and build relationships. This boosts morale and brings us closer together.

We recently undertook well-being reviews with all of our employees. We are proud to say that our employees’ general mental health is good. However, that should not detract us from making improvements and supporting our employees where needed. Here’s a closer look at the results of our well-being reviews:

  • Mental health
    • 70% of our employees feel that their stress levels are relatively low and manageable. The remainder feel that their stress levels are high, due to pressures at work or at home (or both). To help these employees, we recently delivered a presentation at our company meeting outlining our commitment to supporting employees’ physical and mental health and reminding them how they can seek support. We will continue to seek new ways to support our growing team.  
  • Physical well-being
    • 53% of our team are happy with their physical wellbeing. The remainder feel that their physical health could be improved. We’ll continue to encourage employees to take advantage of flexible working as this allows them to break up their days with exercise and reset their stress levels. To help employees prioritise, we’ll be running training sessions on JIRA (our task management system) and using ‘rocks’ to help colleagues identify the three most important tasks for them to work on. 
  • Achieving balance
    • Most employees feel that they can switch off at the end of each day and are able to achieve a good work-life balance. We’ve always encouraged employees to stick to their daily work routine by logging on and off on time. This allows employees to spend time with their families and focus on personal commitments. Many of our team use some of their free time to support the opensource geospatial community in various guises. Where we can, we allow employees to take part in work time, e.g. by attending events such as FOSS4G or code sprints. 

About our flexible working

We offer flexible working practices which allow all employees to schedule regular dependencies, like school runs and health appointments, in business hours. We also encourage employees to step away from their desks to exercise as this improves physical and mental health.

Introducing our Employee Assistance Programme

Our employees can access a range of services through AIG Smart Health when they don’t want to wait for their GP or other services. These benefits include:

  • 24/7 GP consultations (phone/online), including second opinions from the best doctors, for employees, partners and children up to the age of 21
  • Fitness and nutritional plans and advice
  • Mental Health support and counselling
  • Health checks

This year, Mental Health Awareness week focuses on anxiety.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a natural mental health condition characterised by feelings of fear, worry or general unease. In the UK, anxiety is among the most common mental health disorders. Everyone worries about things now and again, but to suffer from anxiety means that worrying has a debilitating impact on your daily life. 

Research shows that:

  • In any given week in England, 6 in 100 people will be diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder (Mind)
  • In the UK, over 8 million people are experiencing an anxiety disorder at any one time (Mental Health UK)
  • Less than 50% of people with generalised anxiety disorder access treatment (Mental Health Foundation)
  • An estimated 822,000 workers are affected by work-related stress, depression or anxiety every year (Health and Safety Executive)

There is a difference between feeling anxious and experiencing an anxiety disorder. To avoid the latter, we need to take the necessary steps to manage it.

Common symptoms of anxiety

As a Mental Health First Aider, I cannot diagnose or treat an employee, though I can offer support wherever possible. Some of the common symptoms of anxiety to look out for are:

Physical effects:

  • Chest pains, heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling dizzy, sweating, headaches, tingling and numbness
  • Choking, nausea, diarrhoea and urinary frequency
  • Restlessness, muscle aches and pains

Psychological effects:

  • Feeling dizzy, sweating, headaches, tingling and numbness
  • Irritability and anger
  • Restlessness, nervousness
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Racing mind / going blank

There’s not one obvious cause of anxiety. Rather, it is usually caused by a mixture of different things related to your personality, upbringing and life circumstances. However,some potential causes of anxiety disorders are:

  • Genetics
  • Childhood experiences and trauma
  • Current life situations
  • Drugs, alcohol and medication

Some of the coping mechanisms which can help with the symptoms of anxiety are:

  • Breathing and mindfulness exercises
  • Regular exercise
  • Engaging in leisure time, being with friends or taking up hobbies
  • Getting adequate sleep and ensuring good nutrition
  • Reducing caffeine intake
  • Complementary therapies, like acupuncture or massage therapy

Lastly, we want to be able to recognise when our employees are experiencing poor mental health. Here is a short video which can help support employees with their mental and physical well-being, whilst working from home.

Supporting your mental health while working from home

This blog was written by Leigh, our Mental Health First Aider.

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