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Mental Health in the Workplace: Navigating Challenges and Promoting Well-being

Experts from University of Cambridge explored actionable steps that can be taken at the individual, organizational, and societal levels
Experts from University of Cambridge explored actionable steps that can be taken at the individual, organizational, and societal levels. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)

Mental health has become a pressing issue globally, and the UK is no exception. This year, one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem. The increasing prevalence of mental health issues has led to a growing focus on mental health awareness and the development of support systems and resources. But what does this mean for the workplace? How can leaders and employees foster mental well-being at work and beyond?


Experts from University of Cambridge delved into these questions and explored actionable steps that can be taken at the individual, organizational, and societal levels.


 
 

Understanding Mental Health and Mental Illness


“Mental health” often serves as an umbrella term, but it’s essential to distinguish it from mental illness. According to Gordon Harold, Professor of the Psychology of Education and Mental Health at Cambridge, “Mental health is a state of mental wellbeing that enables an individual to cope with the everyday stresses of daily life, realize their abilities, learn well, and work well.” In contrast, “mental ill health refers to a wide range of poor mental health conditions that affect mood, thinking, and behavior, and can interrupt or prevent positive everyday life experiences.”


How can leaders and employees foster mental well-being at work and beyond?
How can leaders and employees foster mental well-being at work and beyond? (CREDIT: Getty Images)

This distinction is crucial because enhancing mental health and supporting those with mental illness require different approaches. With mental ill health being the leading cause of disability in the UK and mental health-related absenteeism rising, Harold emphasizes the importance of promoting mental health and protecting against mental ill health at organizational and systemic levels. This focus has significant implications for work and everyday life.


 
 

Moving More for Mental Health


Every May, the Mental Health Foundation leads the UK’s largest mental health campaign. This year's theme, “Movement: Moving More for our Mental Health,” highlights the role of physical activity in promoting mental well-being. Dr. Kathryn Hesketh, Senior Research Fellow in Behavioral Epidemiology, emphasizes that physical activity extends beyond structured exercise like spin classes or 5k runs.


“Physical activity is so much more than just exercise,” she says, suggesting simpler activities like walking meetings or grocery shopping instead of online ordering.


 

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Promoting mental health involves not only moving our bodies but also shifting our mindsets. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), an evidence-based model, teaches us to develop balanced and constructive thoughts, which can significantly benefit mental health.


Professor Thomas Roulet of Organizational Sociology and Leadership at Cambridge, who co-authored an article on CBT for Harvard Business Review, advocates for companies to provide online tools and resources for self-directed CBT learning. This support can foster mental resilience and cognitive functioning over time.


 
 

Practical Steps to Support Mental Health at Work


Individual Changes:


Incorporate Movement: Hesketh recommends following national guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week in ways that suit you. This can include breaking up sedentary periods with movement or engaging in "behavioral activation," like taking walks during work hours.


Behavioral Activation: This approach enhances mental health by increasing engagement in activities that promote positive mental states. It involves monitoring behaviors, identifying goals, and scheduling helpful behaviors, such as social interactions, which offer significant mental health benefits.


Modeling Behavior: Integrating physical activity into your routine can positively influence others. Hesketh’s research shows that parents who model physical activity increase their children's activity levels, boosting their confidence and resilience.


 
 

Organizational Changes:


Cultural Shifts: Jennifer Howard-Grenville, Diageo Professor of Organization Studies, suggests that workplaces support physical movement and mental health by fostering shifts in culture and leadership. Employee-led initiatives and supportive leadership can create meaningful organizational change.


Wellbeing Intelligence: Roulet and Dr. Kiran Bhatti propose “wellbeing intelligence” for managers, which includes skills and tools to understand and improve their own and employees’ well-being. Their CBT-based ARC model (Acknowledge, Respond, Change patterns) helps managers support employees' mental health effectively and reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.


Flexible Work Arrangements: Post-pandemic, more people work from home, leading to less physical movement and social interaction. Organizations can address this by encouraging movement, scheduling breaks, and maintaining healthy work-life boundaries.


 
 

Societal Changes:


Public Health Strategies: Hesketh calls for systems-level changes that incorporate the need for movement into urban planning and workplace designs. Addressing inequalities in access to safe and green spaces is crucial for encouraging physical activity across communities.


Policy Advocacy: Organizations can lead societal shifts by implementing evidence-based practices and advocating for supportive government policies. As Howard-Grenville points out, “Organizations have the opportunity to lead, not follow, societal shifts for mental health and movement.”


The growing focus on mental health and well-being is reshaping how we think about our work and lives. By understanding the nuances of mental health and mental illness, integrating movement into our daily routines, and fostering supportive workplace cultures, we can create environments that promote mental well-being.


 
 

As experts from University of Cambridge highlight, the steps we take at individual, organizational, and societal levels are interconnected and vital in supporting mental health at work and beyond.


As we navigate these challenges and opportunities in the workplace, the call to action is clear: we must prioritize mental health and well-being through movement, both physical and mental, to build a healthier and more resilient future for everyone.






For more science and technology stories check out our New Discoveries section at The Brighter Side of News.


 

Note: Materials provided above by The Brighter Side of News. Content may be edited for style and length.


 
 

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