Developing healthy minds

A best case example of fighting employee stress

Many employees are increasingly finding themselves working in environments which involve short deadlines, constant change and increased work demands.

These leading indicators of workplace pressure are having an adverse impact on the health and wellbeing of employees, causing them to feel not only fatigued but less productive with increased disengagement. This constant ‘white water rafting’ (a term sometimes used in the workplace to express uncertainty and constant demands) means employees can often feel that they’re struggling and stressed.

Companies are seeing not only an adverse effect on employee engagement and discretionary effort but also increased levels of stress experienced (or perceived ) at work resulting in a loss of performance and increased sickness absence.

This is mainly due to a culture of having to do more with less. Although the current economic situation may be slowly improving for some, many however, are showing increased signs of stress due to pressures of increased competition, reduced sales, higher staff turnover and constant reorganisation.

The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work  has certainly realised the risk of stress in the workplace as, for the last two years, they have focussed their healthy workplace campaign on managing stress. They have identified stress as the second most frequently reported work-related health problem in Europe - believed to be the cause of more than half of all lost working days. This supports the notion that psychological risks should be managed in the same systematic way as any other occupational safety and health risk.

"Stress (is) the second most frequently reported work-related health problem in Europe..."

In the latest absence management annual survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, two-fifths of organisations saw an increase in reported mental health problems (such as anxiety and depression) among employees in the past 12 months. Workload remains the most common cause of stress, followed by non-work relationships/family, management style and relationships at work.

In business, when engagement starts to decline, companies become vulnerable not only to a measurable drop in productivity, but also to poorer customer service and greater rates of absenteeism and turnover. Many businesses appear to be at a critical tipping point in their ability to maintain engagement over time (for more, see this 2012 report by Towers Watson, Global workforce study. Engagement at risk: driving strong performance in a volatile global environment.).

Renergised well-being

The energy sector is no different and with increased competition, increased regulatory demands and reduced profits, many of the large energy companies are experiencing major challenges which are adversely impacting their employees.

In response to these challenges, RWE Npower has developed an evidence-based programme which meets these challenges head on, focussing on reducing the key health risks associated with increased workplace pressure.

Approximately four years ago, the Healthy Minds programme was launched across the UK by the in-house Occupational Health and Wellbeing team, who provide support to all 9,000 employees.

The programme consists of three components; the first is a half-day Healthy Minds workshop for managers, secondly the completion of the Pressure Points survey for their team and lastly a 180 degree feedback survey which managers can utilise if there are identified higher risk areas on the Pressure Points survey.

The Healthy Minds workshop is for anyone who manages people and covers:

  • What mental wellbeing is and why it is just as important as physical health
  • Common mental health problems and how to recognise the signs or symptoms
  • The difference between ‘pressure’ and ‘stress’
  • Advice for how to manage employees with common mental health problems
  • Information about how you can use ‘Pressure Points’ to fulfill your legal requirement to assess the risk of stress in your team
  • How to use ‘Mindful Management’ to help you manage your team in a way that prevents stress, promotes wellbeing and enhances engagement 
  • Support available from Occupational Health & Wellbeing
  • Benefits of positive mental wellbeing and how to look after yourself

The Pressure Points survey allows managers to carry out a stress risk assessment for their team and meet the legal requirement to do so.

  • Pressure Points is an anonymous and confidential online survey
  • It provides insight into how teams feel about their work and what their sources of pressure are
  • Each team member can request their individual Pressure Points report showing their sources of pressure and a measure of their own wellbeing
  • Each manager receives a report for their team and uses the report as a starting point for a team discussion on pressures at work.
  • Managers work with the team to find solutions for improvement
  • If any team is identified as having a high risk of stress, they will be automatically registered to use Mindful Management 

Mindful Management is an online 180° feedback tool and covers the following;

  • It supports managers in identifying key strengths and any opportunities for personal development
  • It promotes the development of skills they need to prevent stress, promote wellbeing and enhance sustainable engagement within their teams
  • All feedback from the team is reported anonymously and confidentially
  • Managers are given their feedback during a facilitated session so they have the opportunity to discuss it and make an action plan to support their development

This best practice programme has been highly successful in identifying the levels of workplace pressure across the company and acts as a valuable wellbeing ‘temperature check’.  A group wide report is compiled every quarter and feedback is provided to each of the senior leaders responsible for the different areas of the business, so they can take appropriate action as needed.

The company knows which of the business areas experience the most workplace pressure and these are then offered extra support.. Not only does this comply with health and safety regulations regarding managing stress at work but it also supports the company engagement strategy in providing a great place to work.

"The company knows which of the business areas experience the most workplace pressure and these are then offered extra support."

There are a number of other health and wellbeing activities that RWE Npower undertake across the UK  such as voluntary employee health screening, health promotion roadshows and targeted health improvement  campaigns. A Healthy Minds e-learning module has also been developed so that all employees can gain access for support and advice on workplace pressure and common mental health conditions and this has proved highly popular. 

Finally and more recently Health and Wellbeing Champions have  been appointed in each business area so they can deliver local and specific programmes with the support from the Occupational Health and Wellbeing team.

In summary, over the last four years since adopting the programme, there has been a large commitment to the Healthy Minds programme and a great appetite for supporting both managers and employees with common mental health problems.

This pro-active approach not only breaks down the stigma associated with mental health at work but also creates a healthy and high performing culture in which employees can thrive and not just survive at work.

Image: RWE Npower

Robert Manson

Robert Manson is head of Occupational Health and Wellbeing at RWE Npower providing a service to over 11,000 employees across the UK and Ireland. Robert has written several articles on case management and workplace ergonomic programmes and has been recognised with the Safety and Health at Work - European Good Practice Award. Robert is also a non-executive director for Mental Health First Aid England, a Community Interest Company which provides consultancy and training to employers.