WHSmith's secret weapon in the fight against stress

15 May 2018 -

WHSmithThe high street retailer employs a mental health first aider to assist with work stress

Guest blogger Jaan Madan

Mental Health Awareness Week runs from 14-20 May and the theme is stress.

Turning mental health awareness into action

It has been great to witness the upturn in mental health awareness over the past few years with more business leaders, celebrities and even the royal family talking about the issue. But it’s clear that there is still more to do to ensure we transform this increased awareness into actions that create more supportive and open working environments. Today’s statistics show just 14% of people are comfortable speaking to a manager about their stress levels.

With 12.5 million working days lost to stress, anxiety and depression last year, this indicates how vital it is that more managers receive mental health training. Workplace wellbeing at all levels can be improved if managers, who are often under significant stresses themselves, are able to spot the signs of stress in their team and be able to offer initial support with an open conversation and coping methods.

National bodies including the CMI are calling for managers to lead the fight against stress and mental health disorders at work.CMI’s own research – the Quality of Working Life report – shows that the ‘always-on culture’ is responsible for managers working an extra 44 days more than their contracted hours per year.

Read more: Five ways managers can end stress and improve the quality of working life

Workplace wellbeing at WHSmith

One employer taking action on mental health is WHSmith. The organisation has hired an employee responsible for mental health first aid. Alison Garbutt, head of strategic projects for WHSmith told us about their approach: “Addressing mental health in the workplace has been high on our agenda since we introduced Mental Health First Aid training. We believe mental and physical health are of equal importance, which is why we set ourselves a target to match the number of mental and physical first aiders in our organisation.

The effects of mental health first aid

“We are proud to say we have now met and exceeded that target. Currently, over 90% of our office line managers are trained in Mental Health First Aid and we are also in the process of training our store managers.

“This widescale approach has had a real tangible effect on increasing confidence levels around talking about mental health in our workplace. And, by increasing awareness and getting the right training, we’ve been able to better spot the signs and identify when issues, such as stress, are becoming unhealthy and offer the necessary support and guidance.

“It is clear from this report there is still some way to go to make sure that stigma does not get in the way of open conversations about mental health. But, improving awareness and understanding is a crucial first step that all employers need to take and we’re proud to set an example, not only for the retail industry, but for employers across the UK.”

Address Your Stress

In a mentally healthy organisation everyone should feel comfortable talking about stress.

That’s why Mental Health First Aid England has launched the Address Your Stress toolkit, a free practical resource to help employers and employees identify the sources and signs of stress and take steps to help reduce the impact.

Find out more about Mental Health First Aid training for your workplace at mhfaengland.org/organisations/workplace

Jaan Madan is workplace lead for Mental Health First Aid England

Image: Shutterstock

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