- Mental health conditions are consistently the highest reason for sickness absence in the NHS. Even at its lowest level in 2020, it accounted for 21% of sickness absence
- Poor mental health at work costs the NHS upwards of £3bn per annum
- 44.1% of NHS people felt unwell because of work-related stress
- Up to 32.4% of sickness absence cases in 2020 were owing to anxiety, stress, depression or other psychiatric illnesses
- Only 39% of organisations have policies or systems in place to support employees with common mental health conditions
- 77% of professionals say they’ve experienced employee burnout at work
These are just some of the startling figures referenced in the recently published NHS Health & Wellbeing Framework. This framework is a high-level culture change toolkit aimed at health and wellbeing staff, human resources (HR) and organisational development (OD) staff, HR and OD directors, wellbeing guardians, managers and leaders and anyone with an interest in health and wellbeing. It is made up of four documents: a) strategic overview; b) elements of health and wellbeing; c) diagnostic tool; d) implementation guide.
I do hope that rather than simply becoming another ‘tick-box’ exercise, health sector organisations use this toolkit as an opportunity to facilitate genuine engagement with employees to improve health and wellbeing.
Although the framework has been developed for the NHS, I think it could be a helpful resource for any organisation who is interested in improving the health and wellbeing of their staff.
Prevention over cure
According to Deloitte (2017), “… return on investment of workplace mental health interventions is overwhelmingly positive with an average return on investment of 4:1. There are opportunities for employers to achieve better return on investment by providing interventions at organisational culture and proactive stages enabling employees to thrive, rather than intervening at the very late stage.”
As much as I agree that we need effective services to treat illness, it is also vital to build employee resilience, reduce levels of chronic stress, and prevent burnout from occurring in the first place. This requires a holistic approach to wellbeing. Research from positive psychology can teach us a lot about the construct of wellbeing and how we can live our lives in ways in which we don’t merely survive, but flourish.
The PERMA model of wellbeing has five measurable elements, which each contribute to wellbeing:
- Positive emotion
There are proven positive associations between physical health, vitality, job satisfaction, life satisfaction, and commitment within organisations and the PERMA components. As well as increasing aspects of wellbeing, proactively working on the components of PERMA, also decreases psychological distress.
5 ways to improve your wellbeing
At an individual level, small changes can make a big difference. As we approach the end of what has been another stressful year, you may find it helpful to take some time to reflect on each of these areas. Consider what goals you’d like to set yourself for the new year to boost your wellbeing.
Social support networks can act as an important buffer against stress, providing you with guidance and support when necessary. Talking through your issues with others can help you to see things from different perspectives and come up with alternative ways of dealing with your problems.
Assess your social support level by thinking about a situation at home or work that has caused you a great deal of personal stress.
- Consider to what extent different people in your life helped you with the problem, for example, family, friends, colleagues, professionals.
- Next, think about how you can improve your social support network to create more human connections.
- Also consider whether you need to ask for professional or social support to help with a particular problem.
2. Be Active
Engaging in regular physical activity – especially outdoors – has many benefits including boosting your immune system, improving sleep, reducing stress, depression, and anxiety, and increasing self-esteem, energy levels and productivity. Studies have found that running just 15 minutes per day or walking for an hour can reduce the risk of depression by 26%.
Adults should aim to do at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity five times a week. To develop a habit of keeping active, you can start with just 5- or 10-minute sessions and slowly increase this over time. You will probably find that once you start, you will be able to stay going for longer than you first thought. It is better to set achievable goals and build up from there. Exercise at a time of day when you feel most energetic, and remember the more exercise you do, the more energy you will have.
3. Take notice
Get outside and take notice of your surroundings. Try adding a mindfulness element to exercise. For example, really try and focus on your body and how it feels as you exercise – focus on your breathing or the feel of the air against your skin.
Taking notice and focusing on something else may help to interrupt the constant flow of thoughts and worries running through your head. Also consider how you can periodically incorporate small mindfulness activities into your day, such as 2-minute breathing exercises to help restore a sense of calm. Connect fully with what is happening right here, right now.
Keep your brain active and engage in activities that are different to the types of things you learn about at work. For example, if your job involves lots of thinking, planning, and strategizing, you may want to try out activities which allow you to be more creative, such as arts, crafts, baking or gardening. You could also combine being active with trying out a new sport, joining a team, group or exercise class which will also help you to connect with others.
Keep an open mind, get out of your comfort zone and experiment with different types of activities until you find something you enjoy. Activities that take you outside of your head and away from the worries and responsibilities in your daily life, will be a welcome relief.
Volunteer or find other ways of looking out for those less fortunate than yourself. When we are kind and compassionate, our bodies produce oxytocin which helps to regulate stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Oxytocin can help to reduce blood pressure and inflammation and strengthen your immune system.
Remember to think about others such as your colleagues.
- What can you say or do to show that you care?
- What will give them hope, comfort or inspiration?
- What can you do or say to show that you appreciate someone?
- Express empathy with their current concerns and difficulties.
Studies show that compassion not only lifts others up, but it triggers responses in our bodies that enhance decision-making and personal resilience.
Flourish at work as an inspiring and resilient leader
During my 3-month 1-2-1 Inspiring Leader Coaching Programme one of the areas we focus on is your health and wellbeing. When you feel better, you’ll perform better. We’ll discover and explore your personal stress triggers and develop coping mechanisms to better manage stress when it does arise. By making your wellbeing a priority, you’ll begin to feel more in control of your personal experience and enhance your sense of self-belief.
To find out more, visit www.mandymurdoch.co.uk where you can also request a programme brochure, book a discovery call and sign up to my mailing list.
Accredited Coaching Psychologist, Coach and Consultant
Email: [email protected]
 NHS, Elements of Health and Wellbeing: Creating a health and wellbeing culture. Published 4th November 2021. Available at: https://www.england.nhs.uk/publication/nhs-health-and-wellbeing-framework/
 ‘Mental Health at Work: the case for investment (Deloitte). Part of the ‘Thriving at work: the Stevenson-Farmer review into mental health in the workplace.” (2017)
 Seligman, Martin E. P, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being. London, Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2011.