How to be mentally healthy at work

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How to be mentally healthy at work

Learn how you can be mentally healthy at work, with suggestions for what you can do and where you can get support if you experience poor mental health.

Work and stress

It’s helpful to learn how to manage stress caused by work. If you often experience feelings of stress, you might be at risk of developing a mental health problem like depression or anxiety.

How to cope with stress at work

You don’t need to cope with stress at work alone. Here are some general ideas you can try to help you manage:

  • Understand more about stress. Recognising the signs of stress and learning about the causes of stress is good place to start.
  • Figure out what you find stressful and helpful. You could make a Wellness Action Plan to map out what causes you stress and what keeps you well. Once you know what’s best, talk to your employer.

They may be able to make some changes to help you.

  • Learn different coping techniques. Everyone deals with stress differently, so take time to find methods that work for you. Use them as soon as you start to feel pressure building. Check out the guides from the Stress Management Society for ideas.
  • Try practising mindfulness. This practice is about focusing on the here and now. It might help you to find calmness and clarity to respond to stressful situations. See our pages on mindfulness to learn more.
  • Look after your physical health. Eat well and try a gentle activity like going for a walk or doing a chair-based exercise. Our pages on physical activity and food and mood have more details on how this can help your mental health.

Building resilience

Looking after your wellbeing can help you deal with pressure. In turn, this can reduce the impact of stress on your life. This is sometimes called building resilience.
Resilience is your ability to recover or adapt quickly when faced with challenges. By building resilience, you can better maintain your mental wellbeing when things get difficult.

Managing common stressful situations at work

If you feel stressed by a certain problem at work, you might not be alone in this.

Anyone can experience some of these common stressful situations in the workplace. The important thing is understanding how to manage them.

Problems with your workload

  • Ask your manager for help. Discuss your workload with your manager. Try setting realistic targets and talk about how you can solve the issues you’re having.
  • Try to balance your time. You might be doing too much at once. If you don’t give each task your full attention, it can take longer. Try to claim your time back if you ever need to work extra hours to get something done.
  • Reward yourself for achievements. Rather than only focusing on work that needs to be done next, reward yourself for tasks you’ve completed. Your reward could be taking a break to read, do a puzzle, chat with co-workers or spend time outside.
  • Be realistic. You don’t have to be perfect all the time. You might find that you’re being more critical of your own work than you need to be. Work within your limitations and try to be kind to yourself.

Difficult work-life balance

  • Give yourself short breaks. Take these throughout the day, as well as at least half an hour away from your desk at lunch. Spend some time outside if you can.
  • Take some time off. Try to use the holiday you’re entitled to. If things get too much, a few days off or a long weekend can help you feel refreshed. This can even increase your productivity in the long run.
  • Focus on your life outside work. Nurture relationships with people you don’t work with. Develop interests and skills that you don’t use in your job. This can help you see the difference between your personal life and your working life.
  • Develop end-of-day habits. Finish your working day by tidying your workspace or making a to-do list for tomorrow. This can help you switch off from work, especially if you’re working from home.

Lack of support in your workplace

  • Find out about services in your workplace. Some organisations have employee assistance programmes (EAPs) which offer free advice and counselling. Others have internal support systems such as mentoring or buddy systems.
  • Tell someone that you feel unsupported. You should be able to discuss this with your manager. If you feel you can’t talk to them, speak or write to someone else. This could be your human resources department or trade union representative, if you have one.
  • Develop good relationships with your colleagues. Connecting with people you work with can help build up a network of support. Having connections with co- workers can also make work feel more enjoyable.

Difficult work relations

Just like in your personal life, some people at work may upset you because of the way they behave. Their behaviour may even cause you serious problems.

How to manage difficult relationships at work

Having difficult relationships with your co-workers can be stressful. It can make work feel harder to cope with.

Here are some first steps you can take for managing difficult relationships:

  • Discuss your concerns. If a co-worker says or does something that you find upsetting, arrange to speak with them privately. You can then calmly explain the situation and your feelings. If it happens again, or you don’t feel you can talk to them, discuss it with your manager. If you think you’re being bullied, read on for information about bullying at work.
  • Try not to get involved in arguments. You won’t always agree with your colleagues. But getting your point across in a fair and polite way can avoid unhelpful debates. You could say, “maybe I’m not making myself clear” instead of “you don’t understand”. Or try saying, “I appreciate your point of view, but I see it differently”, rather than “you’re wrong”.
  • Avoid taking part in workplace gossip. People often use gossip as a way of bonding and finding common ground for a chat. It can however put a strain on relationships and cause conflict. Generally it’s best to avoid getting involved.
  • Find a common interest. You might not have much in common with your colleagues. However, finding something that you both like – such as a sports team, TV programme or hobby – can give you something positive to discuss. In time, this could improve your relationship.
  • Keep a professional distance. Unfortunately, you won’t always have good relationships with every co-worker. If you have to work with someone you don’t get on with, try to maintain a professional boundary. It’s not realistic to think that you will be friends with everyone.

What if I have a difficult relationship with my manager?

If you have a difficult relationship with your manager, your working life can feel even harder.
On the other hand, a good relationship can help you feel supported in your role.
If your manager is the problem, you could take the following actions:

  • Review your job description. Is your manager making unreasonable requests, or being unclear about what they expect? Make sure you understand what your role is
    and what it should involve.
  • Communicate your concerns. Request a one-to-one meeting with your manager to discuss how you feel and what would help you. If you don’t feel comfortable meeting your manager alone, ask to bring a colleague or to record your meeting.
  • Speak to another employee. If you don’t feel able to talk to your manager, ask to meet with another manager or somebody from HR. Some workplaces have trained staff like mental health first aiders or health and wellbeing representatives. Try to provide examples of the difficult behaviour and discuss what you’d like to change.
  • Contact an independent body. Get in touch with the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas). It provides free and confidential advice on resolving relationship issues in the workplace. You can find more information on the Acas website.

What if I’m being bullied at work?

If you’re being bullied at work, it can be difficult to know what to do. Sometimes bullying may be obvious, but other times it can be harder to identify. Bullying can have a significant impact on your mental health.

If you experience bullying at work, you could take the following actions:

  • Find out about your workplace bullying policy. The policy should outline unacceptable behaviours and how to address the problem (grievance procedures). Even without a policy, your employer has a legal duty to take reasonable steps to ensure your health, safety and welfare at work. If they don’t take reasonable steps to protect you from bullying, they could be breaking the law.
  • Try to resolve the issue informally. With the support of your manager or a colleague, arrange to speak with the person who is bullying you (if you feel able to). Bear in mind that this is not always possible.
  • Discuss it with someone you feel comfortable with. This could be your manager, HR department, welfare officer or union representative (if you have one). Be prepared to provide examples of your experience of being bullied.
  • Get independent advice. If you’re not ready to talk to someone at work about it, visit the Acas website or call its helpline. Acas provides independent and confidential advice on what to do if you’re being bullied at work. Your local Citizens Advice may also be able to help.
  • Raise a formal complaint. If nothing improves, you may be able to resolve it through formal procedures at work. You can contact Acas to discuss your options and your rights. This includes advice on what you can do if you’re unhappy with the outcome of your complaint.

Although there’s no specific law to protect you from bullying, you might want to seek legal advice. The Acas website has more information about your rights related to bullying and harassment at work.

Sometimes the situation might not improve, or you might feel as if you cannot take action. In this case, you may decide that leaving your job is best for your mental health.
If you feel forced to leave because of bullying, you might want to get further advice about your rights. You can contact Acas or a solicitor specialising in employment law.

Remember: you don’t have to put up with it.

Getting support at work

If your mental health problem is impacting your working life, it can be tricky to know what to do. Fortunately, there are workplace support options available to help you.

You may be considered disabled (as defined by the Equality Act 2010) if you have a mental health problem. If so, you have specific rights related to getting support at work. This support comes in the form of reasonable adjustments. Your employer will also need to know about your disability before you get protection for certain types of disability discrimination.

Should I tell someone at work about my mental health problem?

You may feel unsure whether to tell anyone at work about your ongoing mental health problem, or poor wellbeing. If you are comfortable with sharing, there are some benefits to
doing so.

At first you might experience barriers like:

  • not knowing who, when or how to tell
  • being unsure of how much to share
  • worrying about negative outcomes or reactions.

The possible benefits of talking about your mental health at work include:

  • having a stronger basis for requesting support
  • not having to hide difficulties you’re experiencing
  • helping others open up about their experiences of mental health problems (if you choose to tell colleagues).

Telling anyone about your mental health is a personal choice.

How do I tell my manager?

If you want to tell your manager about your mental health problem, it can be hard to know where to start. To make the process easier, you could try the following suggestions:

  • Arrange to talk to your manager privately. This could be a during a regular catch- up, or by requesting a one-to-one meeting.
  • Think about what you’d like to say in advance. Write up some notes and bring them with you when you meet your manager.

Create a Wellness Action Plan beforehand. This helps you think about your support needs and what keeps you well at work.

Asking for changes at work

To help you stay well and work effectively, you might need to change something about your environment or the way you work.
You can make some changes on your own. Others, such as reasonable adjustments, will require action or agreement from your employer.

If you have a diagnosed mental health problem, think about what changes would help the difficulties you experience. Your employer might refer you to an occupational health adviser for advice on how best to support you.

What are reasonable adjustments?

Reasonable adjustments are changes that an employer makes for an employee with a disability. This only becomes a legal duty if the employee is at a disadvantage in their work.
Your employer must make reasonable adjustments if:

  • your mental health problem is a disability (as defined by the Equality Act 2010)
  • you experience difficulties or disadvantages at work because of your disability
  • the adjustments would remove the difficulties or disadvantages you face
  • it is reasonable in all circumstances to make the adjustments
  • they know about your disability (this means you may have to tell your employer about your mental health problem).

Even if you’re not covered by the Equality Act, your employer should still support you within what is reasonable for your role.

What sort of changes can I ask for?

The changes you need will depend on the work you do and what you find difficult. You could ask to make changes such as the following examples:

  • Using voicemail. You can take messages this way if answering phone calls makes you feel anxious.
  • Communicating by email. If you feel stressed by face-to-face contact, use email where possible.
  • Arranging flexible working. Flexible hours might suit your needs better. For example, this way you can attend medical appointments or start work later in the day.
  • Requesting a quieter workspace. This can help if you find it difficult to concentrate at work.
  • Working by a window or asking for a light box. You might want to make these changes if you have seasonal affective disorder (SAD) for example.
  • Getting on-the-job support. This could be a workplace mentor, or permission to contact your support worker during work hours.
  • Taking time out when distressed. Even just a few minutes away from your working space can help. You could go out for some air, or have a short rest.

Taking time off work

Taking time off for your mental health is just as valid as time off for physical health. If you’re too unwell to work, you need time to get better.

Even if you’re off for a while, it doesn’t mean you’ll never go back to work. Your employer should support you when you’re ready to return.

If you’re off work for more than seven days in a row, you will need a fit note from your GP or hospital doctor. In most cases, you’re entitled to statutory sick pay from your employer for the first 28 days you’re off sick.

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