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World Mental Health Day: Why Compassion at Work is Crucial

To mark this year’s World Mental Health Day, we look at why showing compassion at work, with small and regular gestures, can go a long way and make a big difference to someone’s wellbeing.

While you might be busy and productive in your job, you can still make time to talk through problems with colleagues that may or may not be related to work. Whether you’re a manager, a trained Mental Health First Aider in the office or you’ve recently started a new role, it’s important to see work as a safe space. It is therefore key to build a compassionate workplace culture where breaking down and sharing anxieties is actively encouraged. 

This article explores compassion at work to commemorate World Mental Health Day and offers ways to foster a healthy working environment throughout the year.

Show compassion to help avoid burnout or stress

According to the Institute for Student Employers (ISE), having a compassionate workplace is the key to wellbeing with ‘burnout’ now officially recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a negative issue shared by many. It doesn’t matter whether you are in a leadership position or coming to the end of your working life, there are days when people’s personal lives come first. 

Many of us spend a lot of time working so there is plenty of time to be kind and compassionate to your colleagues. In the UK, the average number of hours worked each week is 36.4. This means that whether you’re in a physical office, working remotely at home or outside all day, you probably do work closely with someone. It’s therefore important to recognise when your colleagues might be feeling stressed and take time to support people of all ages if you do think they are showing signs of deteriorating mental health. 

Although being productive and getting your job done is key, everyone can benefit from recognising when a colleague appears to be stressed, is worried about something or might be suffering from burnout. 

Lead by example with simple gestures

As a manager or anyone responsible for people in a work setting, your role is to lead by example whenever you interact with staff as well as encourage others to follow suit. Small personal gestures can lift people’s spirits quickly.

Organising lunches and small events during or after-work that bring people together in a relaxed setting are a great way to connect team members. Consider planning something fun and sociable like cake decorating classes or a group activity for a worthwhile cause like a charity run or fundraising event. Daily acts such as asking how someone’s weekend went or checking in when they seem stressed are also valuable gestures. Checking in regularly with your colleagues is something everyone can do by sending an encouraging email or leaving a post-it note can make a difference. 

You can also celebrate personal milestones like birthdays and work anniversaries, showing people that life outside work matters. There are practical steps that managers can take, including

  • Start meetings by allowing everyone to share any issues affecting them. 
  • Offer time off for employees going through challenging periods. 
  • Advocate flexible-working options. Allowing adjustments to work patterns or locations to reduce stress and helps people manage demands.
  • Review sick leave, holiday and overtime policies to prevent burnout.

These simple acts cost next to nothing yet can go a long way in building a culture of compassion from the top-down. They also reinforce positivity at work that benefits staff morale and people’s overall performance. 

Provide feedback for a positive workplace

With one in six people experiencing a problem at work each year, creating a caring culture in the workplace is crucial to support employees’ mental health and wellbeing and mitigate any stress, anxiety and depression related to work.

Studies have shown that reinforcing praise and a positive recognition culture can be transformational for nurturing a healthier work environment. Ensuring that you habitually praise people publicly and provide regular positive feedback for good work or for the support they give others is a great way to be positive, boost your colleagues’ morale and build confidence. 

Establish a healthy work-life balance

Establishing a healthy work-life balance is a valuable way to show compassion at work to employees. It’s important to respect people’s personal time by implementing a ‘no contact’ policy after work and at weekends so people can completely switch off. Regularly remind people to use their full annual leave entitlement – breaks prevent burnout. 

If you’re a manager, make sure that you review workloads and on a personal level, learn how to say ‘no’ and let people know if you’ve taken on too much work. Look out for other colleagues who seem overworked. Look for red flags that might indicate a colleague is under duress and be open to offering a helping hand. Listen to their concerns and find out how to signpost them to the advice or support they need as an individual. 

Fostering openness and support systems is vital for building a compassionate work culture. It’s also a good idea to have regular conversations to normalise discussing mental health and wellbeing at work. 

Listen and talk to each other

As well as having some key trained staff who can spot signs of burnout or stress at work, it’s important that you listen to your colleague’s problems and encourage them to talk. You also need to point them in the right direction to resources if they need them.

Actively listening and demonstrating care is crucial for supporting employees’ mental health. Give people your full attention during one-to-ones and avoid distractions that stop you focusing on what they are saying. It’s important to then follow up on any concerns raised. 

Feeding back with reassurance and having that open door policy signals you’re available to listen whenever someone is worried about anything. If privacy is needed for sensitive issues, offer one-to-ones in a private space. Encouraging colleagues to talk in a safe space is important as is teaching colleagues to spot signs of poor mental health enables early, caring intervention. If extra support is required, suggest and signpost colleagues to counselling services and support groups. 

By making compassion part of workplace culture improves morale, retention and productivity. But most importantly, it supports everyone’s mental health safely by sharing any problems to help deal with the stresses of everyday working life. Establishing a healthy work-life balance with genuine compassion is easy. Start to show that you care about your employees at work and you value what they do at work as well as outside the office. Just by listening to each other a little more reinforces a healthy workplace culture with small steps that can make a huge difference throughout the year.