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Creating positive work environments

A sustainable organisation has a positive work environment that supports people to be physically and psychologically healthy. 

It does that by managing any issues of mental health well, and promoting mentally healthy behaviours.

Poorly managed work environments can be highly stressful and chaotic, exploitative of goodwill and lacking in positive workforce engagement. 

The SCARF model describes workplace conditions that reduce the likelihood of employees feeling under constant threat – feeling like they’re often operating in ‘fight or flight’ mode. 

The importance of good leadership

Leadership is widely agreed to be the crucial factor in creating those conditions. 

The good news is the factors that create good mental wellbeing are also the factors that support overall wellbeing. They create a resilient workforce that's more productive and creative.

See below for details on how leaders contribute to creating a mentally healthy organisation, including dealing with stress and bullying.

International standards to create mental wellbeing at work

British Health and Safety Management Standards for work-related stress: These cover six key areas of work design that are the primary sources of stress at work. If not properly managed, they are associated with poor health and wellbeing, lower productivity and increased absenteeism.

  • Demands – issues such as workload and work patterns
  • Control – how much say people have in the way they do their work
  • Support – encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues
  • Relationships – promoting positive working relationships to avoid conflict and dealing appropriately with unacceptable behaviour
  • Role – whether people understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures they do not have conflicting roles
  • Change – how organisational change (large or small) is managed and communicated in the organisation.

Creating a healthy workplace, American Psychological Association (APA): The APA groups psychologically healthy workplace practices into five categories:

  • Employee involvement – involving employees in meaningful ways (self-managed teams, committees, suggestion forums, decision making)
  • Work-life balance – programmes and policies that promote work-life balance (flexible working, help with child and elder care, financial literacy)
  • Employee growth and development – opportunities for employee growth and development (continuing career development, counselling, skills training, coaching and mentoring, leadership development)
  • Health and safety – addressing health and safety issues (general safeguards, stress management, smoking cessation, health screenings, harmful drinking help, EAP, referral to mental health services)
  • Employee recognition – ways of recognising employee contributions (fair pay, benefit packages, acknowledgment of milestones, bonuses, employee awards).

Also see the Canada's National Standard for psychological health and safety in the workplace, and the NICE guidelines for promoting mental wellbeing at work.

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