Last reviewed: 28 September 2021.
Physical health can be a pillar to support good mental health. Here are some tips on what you can do as a manager to support your team’s physical and mental health.
Physical health and mental health
Staying physically healthy can help people to be mentally healthy, though remember that what constitutes being physically healthy will vary from individual to individual. Don’t be prescriptive and remember that one size does not fit all! Tell your teams about any workplace initiatives, both in the workplace and for people working from home.
- For people who are coming into the workplace, you might offer a variety of healthy food options in the cafeteria. Remember that not everyone can eat fruit, or protein, or gluten, or dairy, so what “healthy food” looks like will vary from individual to individual.
- Lunchtime exercise or yoga sessions – either in person or remote – though make sure that these are accessible and inclusive so that everyone can participate. Choose session leaders who demonstrate an understanding of different inclusion needs and make individual adjustments. An experienced trainer should be able to design an exercise programme that is accessible (for example, focusing on upper body strength for manual wheelchair users) and that can be adapted to the different needs of individuals. Remember that any programme that is not accessible is likely to be counter productive to your goals of employee wellbeing! Online exercise sessions or fitness challenges for people to participate in wherever they are. Again, remember to make them inclusive so everyone can participate.
- Workstation assessments and advice on posture. Again, these need to be person-centred and one size does not fit all. Every body is different and not everyone can “sit up straight” so the key here is to make sure that each person has the set up that best supports them ergonomically.
- Don’t implement blanket campaigns that, for example, encourage people to use the stairs rather than take the lift. These can be very demotivating and indeed distressing for disabled people with mobility, vision or balance difficulties – particularly where a condition is not immediately visible. In a worst case scenario, this could even inadvertently lead to workforce bullying “why aren’t you taking the stairs?” Instead, encourage employees to take care of themselves and to do what works for them.
Also remind everyone regularly about any additional support you provide around mental health:
- Health checks from your health insurance provider
- Your Employee Assistance Programme (EAP)
- Debt, bereavement or other counselling
- Physiotherapy or help with private health consultations
It’s really important that any proactive wellbeing programme is also backed up by awareness of where and how to get practical support when needed. Equipping people managers to support their teams, to spot the signs that someone isn’t coping and to have the confidence to have the conversation is critical. It’s not about being an expert but, rather than jump to conclusions if someone looks or acts or communicates in a way that you are not expecting, to ask yourself, “is there something else going on?”. And then to explore that with the individual – which can be as simple as just asking “are you ok?”. However good and however inclusive your wellbeing programmes, people will still experience mental ill health. Make sure that your messaging doesn’t inadvertently make them feel guilty or as if they have failed if they become unwell.
Many mental health charities have campaigns and material on their websites that you could use. Business Disability Forum has a mental health toolkit with lots of resources for HR, people managers and senior leaders. If you have an Occupational Health provider or Employee Assistance Programme, they too may have resources which you can use.
It’s important that members of your team feel just as supported when working remotely. It may seem harder to support your team’s mental health if you’re not working in the same space as them – but there are steps you can take.
Healthy working habits
Encourage remote-working members of your team to maintain healthy working habits, such as:
- Taking regular breaks from screens – ideally with some form of exercise (for example, a 15-minute walk outside)
- Sharing advice about posture
- Workstation assessments
- Logging out of work emails after finishing work – it’s important to have boundaries about when work starts and ends.
Good work can support mental health
Finally, there are some things all the research agrees makes for happier people and happy people make for happy workplaces:
- Control over your time and work
- Meaningful work
- Social interaction – sense of belonging and community with colleagues
- Good sleep, nutrition and exercise
- Shorter commuting times
- Daylight and nature.
These might not be within your control at work but perhaps there are small steps you can start taking.
For advice and guidance tailored to your organisation or team, contact BDF’s Advice Service:
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