For many of us, how we feel at work has a huge knock-on effect on how we feel outside it. This makes sense after all, because work is where we spend much of our time, where we make our money, and often where we formulate some key friendships. Having a fulfilling job can also do wonders for your self-esteem and general wellbeing, so it’s definitely important to find a workplace that really promotes positive mental health, not just for #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek this May, of course, but all the time.

Here’s why you need a workplace that takes care of its workers – and what to look out for when you’re searching for one.

An open work-place culture

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When searching for, or starting a new job, there’s loads of little things you can do to suss out whether the organisation has an open and supportive culture or not. It can be anything from reading the HR section of the website, to asking about the diversity and inclusion policies, or getting a feel for how the current employees talk to each other in the staff room. The general vibe of a place can have a huge impact on how you feel day to day, so don’t ignore your gut when you come for an interview. Do a little digging and see if you can find out how happy people tend to be in their roles before you join.

Leigh Middleton, the Chief Executive of the National Youth Agency charity, said that he’s proud of the culture at his organisation. “We have a contract in place with an HR company that provides us with guidance and support for helping staff with specific issues” he told us. “Certain staff have required professional counselling support and we’ve funded that. We also make sure we raise awareness of days and weeks that are related to mental health awareness.” When it comes to sourcing the right role within a supportive workplace he added: “I advocate it’s important for young people to find the right companies to meet their needs with flexible working or whatever. The mental health of staff isn’t any different to any other need. If we care and share we can look after people.”

Support

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There are lots of tangible actions workplaces can put into place to make sure they’re creating a workplace that supports the mental health of their employees. You may want to work somewhere that offers work-place counselling services, or that makes it normal to have guilt-free breaks, unlimited holiday, or mental health sick days.  Kerry, a Senior Partnership Manager at O2 received counselling at work after her divorce, something that a senior colleague recommended to her. “I couldn’t control my crying or my emotions – I had rage, anger and confusion and it started to affect me more than I thought at work. So with the counselling service that O2 provides, I got five sessions with a therapist. At first, I wasn’t sure if my divorce was a big enough reason to have counselling, but I’ve realised now it’s not how big the incident is, but how much it will affect you.”

Kerry went on explain that O2 as a company make a large commitment to the wellbeing of its staff all year around. “It’s not just when you’ve got an issue, or incident or that feeling of being overwhelmed or anxious. O2 also helps people to actively manage your wellbeing. Flexi-working is great and it gives us a good work-life balance, and we have a gym onsite which is subsidised. It’s also perfectly acceptable to go for a walk when on a conference call. And the canteen at work try and help us be healthy too, so it’s the whole package.”

Room to grow

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Of course you might, at some point, find yourself in a position where you can’t afford to be picky about the job you take. Money troubles, family pressures or other difficult situations may cause you to consider taking on a role that you’re not really happy with. But before you accept a job offer that leaves you feeling nonplussed, ask yourself – is it really worth the cost of your mental health? New research from De Montfort University  and Birkbeck University of London,  found that symptoms of paranoia and other mental health problems are at their worst among workers in low-ranking jobs.

The study of of 4,596 workers, which was published in May 2018, found that a total of 19 percent of workers surveyed have signs of depression, 15 percent have considered suicide, 10 percent feel paranoid, seven percent have a psychotic or personality disorder, and four percent have suffered hallucinations. The study also revealed that the lower an employee’s income, the worse their chances of good mental and physical health are. For example, those without managerial responsibilities tend to feel more overwhelmed by their job conditions and are more susceptible to stressors like job insecurity, bad pay or poor promotion prospects.

Finding a job that supports your professional development and which provides direction from senior staff, with room for promotion and growth, can affect your mental health and wellbeing more than you might think.

Room to challenge the status quo

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Many workplaces are now more conscientious than ever about the mental wellbeing of their staff. So before accepting that job offer, work out whether you can slot into the new work culture with your specific views and needs. Will you want to help set the agenda in terms of organising mental health awareness days? Or lead the office when it comes to keeping tabs on diversity and inclusion quotas? If you’re going to need special mental health provisions, remember that it’s always best to be upfront about how your mental health could affect your work. And as we’ve spoken about before, the government notes that employers must make “reasonable adjustments” to those with mental health conditions so they aren’t disadvantaged at work. This could mean making special desk provisions if you suffer with social anxiety, giving you time off to attend medical appointments and working from home. Raymond Tannor, Projects Co-ordinator at Go Think Big told us he couldn’t imagine working anywhere that didn’t allow him to be himself. “I’d hate to be in a career that didn’t nourish my soul. You should always bring your full self to work” he said. “If you’re putting on a front or putting or facade, you will never truly feel comfortable. There are a lot of mental health concerns with young people these days and if you’re not able to be yourself,  people will only see what you want them to see and they won’t be able to help you.”

Whatever your needs in the workplace, be sure to take the time to research how a new job will affect your wellbeing – that new job isn’t worth it if it negatively impacts your day to day psychological health.

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