Anxiety is the theme of Mental Health Awareness Week (15-21 May) this year, and it is a focus very relevant to our relationship with work.
We all feel anxious from time to time; it’s a part of modern life. When it becomes persistent and out of control, however, it is a mental health problem that has an impact on both the individual and the organisation they work for.
The pandemic followed by the cost of living crisis among other things has left over a third of us with anxiety, according to this survey by the Mental Health Foundation, with many feeling ‘hopeless about our personal finances’.
Pre-2020, the conversation around wellbeing and the workplace was typically centred on the impact our jobs can have on our mental health. Work pressures turning to acute stress and, more recently, burn-out have been the common themes. Today, however, we are seeing a shift in focus to how we can manage non-work-related stressors at work.
When I talk to CEOs, I see employer support to help address financial wellbeing now increasing, for example, with leaders identifying the risks to productivity.
This PwC survey of C-suite and HR leads finds ‘employee financial stress is on the rise as they navigate higher prices, uneven wage growth and record credit card debt’. Finances are the top cause of stress in the lives of 57% respondents.
What is the survey report’s advice for leadership teams? Its authors encourage them to consider implementing financial wellness benefits that focus on the immediate money management concerns employees are facing. They advise highlighting your total rewards offering in a way that can help employees value their benefits within the context of their financial needs.
All sound advice. It is typical, however, of the top-down approach we often see when organisations address the health and wellbeing of their people. It is very often about the engagement between employer and employee. This is why support for issues such as financial wellbeing usually fall within the purview of the HR department.
Our advice goes beyond this. We say consider the positive effect your team members can have on each other.
When it comes to addressing anxiety and other mental health issues at work, let’s not ignore the power of the collective. We spend most of our time at work with those in our team, and we are used to working in tandem with our teammates on projects.
So, during Mental Health Awareness Week, let’s think about how we can collaborate on our mental health and wellbeing. Here are a few things we can do in the team environment to support each other:
- Reach out when we are struggling to complete a work task. We are a species that likes to help each other so let’s ask each other for help when we need it. No more suffering in silence
- Find your wellbeing buddy. Research tells us that we are twice as likely to achieve something, such as taking a regular break, if we do it with someone else
- Make time as a team to talk about how we’re feeling. This could be a standing item on your agenda with the title ‘How well are we?’ Making it a regular conversation helps it become a topic for sharing rather than shame
- Build wellbeing into any physical team meetings or events. We can use our precious time together to do something that helps make us happy, healthy and productive, such as healthy snack eating turning the weekly catch-up into a walk and talk
It is worth remembering how important relationships are to our wellbeing. ‘People who are more socially connected to family, friends, or their community are happier, physically healthier, and live longer, with fewer mental health problems than people who are less well connected,’ says the Mental Health Foundation.
Add to this relationships at work. Addressing wellbeing at work together may not help us alleviate anxiety completely, but the old adage is true: A problem shared is a problem halved.