Written by:
Jaan Madan, Workplace Lead, Mental Health First Aid England

This year, Mental Health Awareness Week (14-20 May) is shining a spotlight on stress. With one in six adults experiencing depression, anxiety or issues relating to stress at any one time – and with 12.5 million working days lost due to mental ill health per year – helping employees to manage their stress should be a priority for all employers. This is especially true in the finance sector where high workloads, long working hours, and an ‘always on’ culture can be more commonplace.

What is stress?

Stress is the body’s natural response when it senses danger. We all experience stress and need it to function, healthy amounts of stress can be a motivator at work. But when stress interferes with our lives, it becomes a problem. Too much stress, for too long, can make us ill. If not addressed stress can cause mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety, and harm our physical health.

Here, Jaan Madan, Workplace Lead at Mental Health First Aid England, offers simple steps that finance employers can take to promote a culture of positive mental wellbeing at work:

Start the conversation

Tackling unhealthy levels of stress in the workplace starts with a conversation – one that everyone should feel they can have, whatever their position is within an organisation. By addressing and promoting conversations around issues like stress, leaders and senior management can play an important role in addressing the stigma around mental health at work.

Lead from the front

It’s vital that leaders are seen to be ‘walking the talk’ and demonstrate positive behaviours that help employees manage their stress levels. For example, leaving work on time, taking a proper break for lunch, and avoiding non-urgent out-of-hours contact as much as possible. Some employers go further and have policies that prevent desk lunches and emails in non-working hours. Policies such as these will, over time, help employees feel confident and supported when talking about their own mental wellbeing.

Equip managers to act

Many employees won’t speak out if they are experiencing too much stress, so it’s important for managers to feel confident in recognising the signs that someone may be struggling and offer basic support to help them work through their challenges. Promoting regular conversations around wellbeing is vital; checking in regularly with members of their team, even if it’s just a ten-minute conversation to ask how they are, could make all the difference and help someone open up about an issue that is causing them stress. Mental Health First Aid teaches people the skills and confidence to recognise the signs and symptoms of common mental health issues. It is a great way for managers to learn how to offer more support in the workplace.

Act now

One particular finance employer taking action on mental health is Northern Trust.  Sarah Boddey, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, EMEA & Asia Pacific, says: “We’re proud to be one of the many employers contributing to the growing conversation around how we address stress and mental health in the workplace. Using training, such as Mental Health First Aid, we’re able to equip our employees with an increased awareness and understanding of mental health and also provide the practical skills to have a supportive and structured conversation. At Northern Trust we currently have 190 employees in the UK trained in Mental Health First Aid – across all teams, levels and departments – and we aim to train more.”

This Mental Health Awareness Week we want to support more people to be able to talk about stress, to ensure that it’s something everyone feels comfortable addressing, in every workplace. It’s time to turn an increased mental health awareness into action.

MHFA England this week has launched the ‘Address Your Stress’ toolkit: a set of free, simple and practical tips and tools to help everyone better understand and manage their stress. Download the toolkit now and find out more about Mental Health First Aid training for your workplace.

Mental Health Awareness Week: Why managing stress matters
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