Helping people stay mentally healthy at work – and keeping them productive – is a growing concern right now. Employers are offering everything from mindfulness apps to puppies in the office in the hope of tackling absence and keeping morale high.
But how do you know what really makes a difference? Respected health research foundation the Wellcome Trust has been on the case, evaluating thousands of studies on ten of the most popular workplace interventions to figure out what really relieves anxiety, depression and stress.
The bad news is that they didn’t try out the puppies. But here are some ideas they found that did work, and how you can introduce them in your own workplace.
Flexible working cuts stress
Many of us have direct experience of how work-life clashes can be a major source of stress, anxiety and even depression. So, you won’t be surprised to learn that the studies examined by the Wellcome Trust bear that out. The trust says the evidence shows flexible working can reduce that stress and help people already suffering with mental health issues manage their symptoms.
Employees have a right to request flexible working once they’ve been in post for six months, says Acas, the independent body that helps resolve workplace disputes. You can ask to change your start and finish time, complete your hours in fewer days, work from home or go part-time. Your employer should look at your request fairly and decide within three months.
Get up and move for better mental health
Most office workers sit for nine hours a day and the Wellcome Trust founds lots of evidence that’s bad for mental and physical health. The good news was that all this research suggested that just an hour of light activity, broken up throughout an eight-hour day, can reduce depression symptoms by 10% and anxiety by 15%.
The NHS suggests you can change your sedentary lifestyle at work by standing or walking around while you take a phone call, using a standing desk, talking a quick stroll every time you break for tea or coffee, and by walking to a colleague’s desk instead of emailing or calling.
More autonomy can mean less depression
If you noticed a lift in your mood while you were working from home, controlling your own job environment and getting on with your tasks in your own way, that’s the benefit of greater autonomy in action. The Wellcome Trust says there is significant evidence that more autonomy is good for mental health, especially for workers over 25, women and people in the public sector.
PriceWaterhouseCoopers says employees report they would give up a 20% raise to get more control over the way they work. It cites gaming company Valve, which gives employees movable desks so they can wheel over to join projects that seem interesting. The company sets clear expectations, and evaluates work at the end – but what happens in between is up to the employee.
Buddying up can reduce stress
Many companies pair up new employees with a co-worker who can show them the ropes and help them settle in. They’re usually intended to help new hires get productive more quickly, but the Wellcome Trust says that similar forms of peer support were shown to have a positive impact on mental health.
If you want to introduce a buddy scheme at your workplace, the trust suggests making sure buddies meet regularly and face to face if possible and putting a time limit on the buddy relationship – but giving it at least three months. It also recommends ensuring buddies and the new hires are on the same team with the same boss, and looking for people with one or two years’ experience in the company.