Richard Holmes, Director of Wellbeing at Westfield Health, discusses why colleges and organisations in further education need to encourage openness around mental health, improve support services for employees, and how this can be incorporated into the working day:

The mental health of employees in further education is a topic that is still stigmatised but is vitally important to discuss and provide support for. With college and training staff having a duty of care, not just for themselves, but the students they teach, mental health issues need to be taken seriously by organisations, employers and employees.

With Britons taking 15.8million sick days for mental health issues in 20171 (stress, depression, anxiety, bipolar, etc.) further education organisations need to make sure they are creating a culture of openness for their employees.

Taking a ‘Mental Health Day’

Treating mental health issues and stress-related absences with the same approach as physical sickness will improve attendance and productivity, while reducing stress and stigma around these issues. Employees will also feel more able to have open discussions with each other and encourage students to understand how important it is to look after their mental health.

A ‘Mental Health Day’ is when an employee does not come to work and takes a sick day for reasons other than physical illness. If an employee is suffering from mental health issues, taking a ‘Mental Health Day’ is a way of ensuring they give themselves time to rest and recuperate.

What can be done to prevent absence in the first place?

There are a number of ways that college and training staff can be supported, and these can be easily incorporated into the working day. These methods are vital in helping colleges and other further education organisations prevent mental health absences and understand how to support employees who are experiencing them.

Organisations and employers should also look to provide on-site stress busters for college and training staff to reduce stress at work and therefore mental health-related absences. Schemes including relaxation sessions, chill-out zones and exercise classes to help employees unwind and switch off from their workload are all effective tools.

Staff should also consider using these stress-busting schemes with their students, especially around exams and other pressurised situations. Both teachers and students will pick up on each other’s stress levels, so communal stress-busters will help encourage cooperation, openness, respect and greater productivity.

Employees should be inspired to talk openly and freely about how they feel and the importance of protecting mental health, both with each other and students. An open door policy and social activities are great ways to improve colleague relations and create a culture where they feel at ease discussing important and personal issues.

Outdoor lessons, eating outside and walking meetings are all simple yet very effective methods of stress-reduction. Getting fresh air and a change of scenery will help staff and students feel refreshed, recharged and less stressed. A change of scene and the outdoors can also often spark a greater interest in what is being discussed and new ideas, both of which will really increase participation and productivity.

Getting outside also encourages exercise which releases endorphins. This has been proven to reduce stress, boost self-esteem and ward off feelings of anxiety and depression.

Flexibility

Although benefits such as a high salary or extra holiday days are great motivators, they often don’t help with mental health issues. Many employees at further education organisations can often feel pressured and overworked due to the long hours and high workload. A flexible work schedule can help college and training staff feel more valued, as well as help them feel more able to balance their work and home life.

The more an employer adheres to the needs of individual employees, the greater the staff retention rate and the more stress will be reduced. Staff will also be more present when teaching and interacting with other staff members which is vital to ensure productivity and happiness levels are high.

Implementing a wellbeing programme

Across the UK, amongst college and training staff, an increase in stress has led to employees feeling over stressed and taking mental health related days off. As education organisations become increasingly serious about promoting the benefits of protecting mental health and decreasing workplace stress, wellbeing programmes should be explored and implemented. By introducing initiatives like this, employers are more likely to have a happier and healthier workforce, reducing avoidable absenteeism.

Workplace wellbeing initiatives, while helping to reduce employee stress and absenteeism, will also encourage motivation and productivity from students as staff will be mentally present. This in turn will improve student’s performance and the overall reputation of the organisation.

Richard Holmes, Director of Wellbeing at Westfield Health

Copyright © 2018 FE News

1   Research by Deloitte UK Mental Health Monitor, October 2017

About Westfield HealthWestfield Health is an award winning not-for-profit health and wellbeing provider, committed to improving people’s quality of life by inspiring them to make healthier choices at work and at home. For more information about workplace health and wellbeing please call 03331 227343.

Working with 400,000 customers and more than 8,000 companies, Westfield Health has been supporting the nation to live happy, healthy, independent lives since 1919.

It has donated over £14.5m to the NHS and medically related charities over the last 20 years, supporting the health and wellbeing of communities across the UK.

Westfield Health believes in well beings, and that when you begin to truly believe in the physical and emotional wellbeing of your staff it can completely transform the face of your business, improving productivity, helping you retain staff and making you a desirable place for prospective employees to work.

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