Support Workplace Mental Health in the Food Sector

Mental health and well-being challenges in the workplace aren't new concepts.

People have been dealing with mental health concerns at work for as long as "work" has existed. However, what has changed is how companies choose to address these issues.

There are endless opportunities for food manufacturers to reduce staff turnover, lower absence rates, and improve employee satisfaction simply by responding to mental health the right way.

Discussions about how to support, manage, and improve mental health at work are being redefined on a global scale.

The pandemic has prompted a re-evaluation of employee engagement and company culture for many manufacturing brands. Now is the perfect time for companies to ensure they're on the right track with their approach to emotional wellness.

Today, we're going to look at why it's s crucial for food manufacturers to make suitable investments in employee well-being by prioritising mental health.

This guide will also cover valuable insights into how you can enhance mental health on multiple levels 

Mental health has always had an impact on the workplace.

An employee with a mental health issue can't focus entirely on their work, which risks productivity and efficiency. Poor conditions for mental health in the workplace also place additional pressure on staff, prompting turnover and lost talent.

Unfortunately, food manufacturers haven't always responded to mental health concerns the right way in the past.

Fortunately, this is now beginning to change.

The pandemic has prompted a massive shift in the way employers support, guide, and empower their staff members. Business leaders have rediscovered the benefits of an engaged, emotionally healthy team –particularly in a hybrid or remote work environment.

Team members have become increasingly unwilling to continue their employment with companies that fail to deliver respect for their wellbeing and good health. Indeed, following the pandemic, food manufacturing companies have had to deal with the rising stresses of the "Great Resignation", as numerous talented employees seek opportunities to work with companies that share their values.

Here's our advice on how to handle the increasing focus on mental health.

The Impact of Poor Mental Health on the Modern Workplace

Mental health issues affect around one in four people at some point in their lives. Crucially, these issues don't just influence our personal lives but also our professional lives.

Mental health issues are commonly considered one of the most significant causes of long-term absences from work. They can also prompt problems from productivity levels to employee satisfaction, increasing turnover and talent churn.

Many manufacturing companies assumed mental health issues were problems facing only a handful of companies in the past. However, we're now discovering the situation is much more significant than many realised. A 2021 CIPD report revealed that around 80% of organisations were concerned about their employees' mental health.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, concerns about mental health have increased drastically since the pandemic.

Uncertainty breeds stress and anxiety – issues that directly impact productivity.

In the early months of the pandemic, a study showed around 42% of respondents said their mental health had declined within a month of the pandemic beginning. While companies and their employees are once again beginning to find their footing in a post-pandemic environment, most teams are now hyper-aware of how fragile good mental health can be.

As we navigate transitions into new modes of work in the coming years, the companies that thrive will be the ones who understand how to manage employees with anxiety, depression, burnout, and even trauma.

Mental health issues can range from common conditions like anxiety and depression to severe problems like bipolar disorder. To succeed in the years ahead, companies will need to ensure they have the right strategy in place to handle all kinds of concerns.

 

Why Companies Need Mental Health Programs

In the past, mental health issues in all environments, including the food manufacturing sector, have been widely ignored and overlooked. As a result, companies have suffered from poor employee engagement, issues with talent retention, and even legal concerns.

In many parts of the world, employers have a duty of care to their employees, which requires them (by law) to adjust the workplace to help staff members cope in any environment. However, the legal expectations of employers shouldn't be the only thing guiding a focus on good mental health practices.

Actively promoting wellbeing in the workplace leads to better productivity, confirmed by the CIPD in the UK, alongside improved staff morale, better retention, and reduced sickness absence.

According to the World Health Organization, the estimated cost of anxiety and depression in the workplace is around $1 trillion per year in lost productivity.

Implementing mental health strategies in the workplace can reduce these losses for food manufacturers.

By prioritising mental health, business leaders can:

·      Reduce sickness and absenteeism: Employees who get more support dealing with their mental health issues at work don't need to take as much time off.

·      Improve productivity: Employees who feel their best can work at their best, with greater levels of focus, efficiency, and engagement.

·      Retain current employees: One of the main reasons many employees leave businesses is to search for better work experiences. An excellent mental health environment will make teams feel more connected to their employer.

Perhaps most importantly, food manufacturers will need to show they understand the value of good mental health and how to cultivate it if they want to attract new employees.

As generations continue to shift and more of Gen Z enter the workforce, experts predict we may need to be prepared for a more significant number of mental health issues among younger staff members.

Generation Z report feeling more stressed than their older counterparts due to constant exposure to school shootings, social media, climate change, and political change. Around 91%of Gen Z respondents in one study said they feel psychological or physical symptoms caused by stress regularly.

Without a robust approach to mental health, your company won't access the next generation of talent.

How to Start Addressing Mental Health in the Food Sector

The rising focus on mental health conditions and their influence on how we work prompts a more significant number of companies to act, but there's still a lot of work.

According to one Forrester study, most senior leaders agree that mental wellness is essential in the workplace, but only 23% say mental health factors into their decision making.

To attract a new generation of talent and retain existing employees, you will need to build a culture around good mental health.

For most companies, this process starts with:

Open Communication

Companies can learn from Gen Z as they build a strategy for better mental health is; the value of open communication.

Employees have often been too nervous to tell their manager about mental health problems, which usually means problems worsen or spiral out of control. Organisations need to send a clear signal to staff that they value their wellbeing.

Start by:

·      Explaining your policy on mental health: Tell your team members mental health will be treated with the same compassion as physical health. Avoid allowing stigma to build around the concept of mental health. People should feel free and comfortable discussing their anxiety, depression, stress, and other concerns.

·      Leading by example: Leaders in the manufacturing landscape can often feel they have a specific image they need to convey in the workplace. However, while it's important to show strength and conviction, this doesn'tmean keeping quiet about mental health conditions; if your employees hear you being honest about mental health issues, they're more likely to feel comfortable talking about their challenges.

·      Host regular discussions: Have regular video meetings and conversations to opt-in to conversations about mental health. These conversations can be as simple as talking about how people have felt during the week and whether they've encountered any particularly stressful experiences.

RegularCheck-ins

While Gen Z and younger generations are more used to talking openly about their mental health in the modern world, it isn't true for every employee.

Some of your staff members might not need additional help opening up about their mental health concerns. Others will need multiple ways to make their voice heard. An excellent way to support those who struggle to discuss their concerns in person is to allow them to share their thoughts through an app on your team collaboration tool.

Automated bots can run regular check-ins with team members, asking them to rate their moods on a scale each day. Supervisors and managers can then be made aware of employees constantly placing themselves in "low" moods.

Consider how each of your employees might want to approach discussions about mental health too. While some of your team members will want to chat with the entire group in a comfortable and neutral space, others prefer more one-on-one conversations.

Being flexible and open to the individual needs of each team member will ensure everyone in your team feels adequately supported.

Gathering feedback from the team

Mental health is a complex topic because everyone deals with their issues uniquely. Some people need more time to themselves when they're feeling low, which could make the option to work remotely more compelling to specific staff members. Others might find hy need extra support from their teams when they're in a dark place.

Gathering feedback from your employees about how you can improve their mental health can help you develop new ideas on how to strengthen and transform the company culture. It also ensures you're not making (often inaccurate) assumptions about what symptoms each employee might have and how they affect their ability to do their job.

Provide anonymous and direct options for feedback to your team to decide whether they want to share their suggestions silently or as part of a group discussion.

Ensure confidentiality comes first for those who want to keep their mental health issues private. People need to be reassured that sensitive information will remain confidential and not affect their food career.

It is crucial to give your staff plenty of reassurance that any fee or information they share about their mental health will be safe.

How to Make Adjustments for Mental Health

Genuine listening and responding to the feedback provided by your team will often involve making adjustments to your work processes. While these changes can seem complex and time-consuming at first, it's worth remembering that mental illness can cost employers an average of between $80 and $100 billion per year.

The changes you make to the work environment from a mental health perspective will come in two different forms. First are the changes you make for individual team members.

Since every manufacturing employee in your team will have their symptoms and individual responses to mental health conditions, you can't make assumptions about what kind of adjustments they'll need. Instead, managers and supervisors need to have supportive conversations with employees about what they need to thrive.

This should be a two-way discussion about the nature of any changes required. During this conversation, it's worth reminding your employee that the medical reasoning behind any changes to their schedule won't be revealed to their colleagues.

In these conversations, managers should:

·      Encourage employees to seek additional support: Remind your employees that while you'll do everything you can to assist them, they should still seek support. If your organisation has specific programs to help arrange counselling or therapy, share this information with your employee and advise them on how they can use the resources.

·      Ask what they personally can become: Some employees need understanding from their manager about the nature of a mental health condition so they can make requests for time off in the future without having o explain their situation repeatedly. Others will need their managers to help them adjust to working hours or patterns. Ask what you can do to support your staff members individually.

·      Ask what the company can do: Discuss what the wider business can do to address the unique needs of each individual. This might include providing them with extra training, coaching, or mentoring, to help them improve their confidence in their job. It could also mean delegating more tasks to a broader range of employees to reduce the pressure on a team member and lower the risk of burnout.

·      Make changes slowly: Sometimes, it isn't easy to know precisely which actions will have the most significant impact on an employee's wellbeing and mental health. Making changes slowly can make it easier to track the influence of each adjustment. For instance, you might start by temporarily reducing an employee's hours while dealing with an acute mental health problem or allowing them to spend more time working from home.

·      Arrange future conversations: Handling mental health conditions in the food manufacturing environment. Making a commitment to follow up with your employee or setting a buddy or mentor to have someone to "check i" regularly about their progress shows your staff member that you actually care about their ongoing wellbeing.

 

Making Good Mental Health a Part of Company Culture

Now more than ever, food manufacturers need to understand how mental wellness influences their employees. Workplace wellbeing initiatives in the past have frequently focused too heavily on concepts like nutrition and exercise and not enough on the holistic health of staff.

For decades, chronic stress-related issues in the workplace have been on the rise. In the post-pandemic era, these problems will only continue to grow.

Fortunately, building a company culture around a foundation of good mental health can start to drive businesses in the right direction.

Crucially, not only will implementing the following strategies for good mental health improve the performance and productivity of your existing employees, but it could increase your chances of attracting future employees. In the years to come, your employer brand is likely to hinge heavily on the way people see you handling mental health today.

1.     Create a well-being policy for your company

A well-being policy is an excellent way to get everyone in your manufacturing business on the same page about mental health. Like a remote or hybrid work policy, this document will describe the kind o environment you're trying to build and how your employees can contribute.

Look at both physical and emotional wellbeing in your policy.

The document should include:

·      Insights into who your employees can speak to in their team if they need to discuss a health issue and how they can submit information anonymously if necessary.

·      A clear statement is sharing your commitment to developing the working environment your employees need for good physical and mental health.

·      Information about well-being initiatives you already have for your employees to take advantage of. This can include data about your available mental health resources and any tools you have on offer for physical well-being.

Your policy should also outline what you expect from your employees about respecting their colleagues' well-being. Let your team members know discrimination based on health issues will not be tolerated, and ensure your employees know how to report such behaviour.

2.      Model good behaviours and provide training

A good leader should be a model of valuable behaviour in any manufacturing environment. In modern workplaces, business managers and supervisors need to demonstrate good practices for looking after their physical and mental health.

Encourage leaders in the business to highlight the importance of the workplace balance by making sure they don't work excessive hours or put themselves under unnecessary stress. Managers and supervisors should also talk about their experiences with mental health whenever possible and try to get other people involved in healthy conversations.

It can often be helpful to provide training and guidance in this environment. Companies can provide their employees with information about the stigma surrounding mental health and give them extra advice on what they can do to make their colleagues feel more comfortable in the office. Increasing awareness and ensuring employees know how to support their peers properly can make every team member feel more valued.

Some employees may also find it helpful to receive training on mental resiliency and how to deal with the officers in the workplace. Group or individual training sessions on everything from mediation to avoiding burnout are different environments movesmely functional.

3.    Prioritise flexibility and inclusion

Creating a more inclusive workplace where everyone can feel comfortable, supported, and productive at work is the best possible outcome of a successful well-being initiative. Listen to each of your employees individually and develop an action plan based on what you learn.

You may need to create individual strategies for your staff members to identify the signs of their mental health concerns, stress triggers, and who they can contact in a crisis. It may also be helpful to provide your staff members with more flexibility in general.

As the food manufacturing environment rushes towards a future of more hybrid and remote working practices, giving your team members the freedom to work from home or avoid coming into the office on certain days may be helpful. This could allow staff to take control of their own mental health needs without requiring them to ask for help.

Crucially, you'll need to expect the situation, the needs of your team, and the demands of the business to change frequently in the years ahead. Check-in regularly, particularly at transitional points in your business growth (when something significant happens for your business). You can only stay on top of mental health concerns in your business if you're aware of wats happening.

 

Adjusting Recruitment with a Focus on Mental Health

Crucially, supporting and cultivating good mental health in the manufacturing environment will also impact how you recruit and appeal to new employees.

First, it's essential to ensure you're working with a reputable food manufacturing recruitment team with experience dealing with talent in your area. These professionals know how to present your company in the best possible light to candidates who may be concerned about your approach to mental health. It's also worth thinking about how you can make your company seem more inclusive.

Start by drawing attention to the mental health initiatives you're running on our business website or encouraging staff members to talk about their experiences on review forums.

When writing job descriptions, draw attention to your flexible and inclusive environment when highlighting the benefits candidates can access if they work for you. Talking about things like "paid mental health days" and access to therapy on your job posts can help to attract a broader range of employees (particularly among younger generations).

Remember to consider the interview and onboarding process carefully too. A video interview might be more comfortable for anxiety than attending an office in pr.

Getting a little extra help with everything from recruitment to job description writing and onboarding could be crucial for manufacturing companies trying to stay competitive in a skills-short environment.

As a specialist recruitment team specifically focused on the manufacturing space, we can help guide you through the complexities of making your employer brand stand out in this new world. We'll also give you the top tips you need for interviewing and onboarding your new team members.

Get in touch if you're ready to attract some new talent to your food manufacturing team.

We offer complimentary consultations for our clients. Contact one of our team here

By Scott Williams

I’m an independent owner of Food Recruit - Search & Selection.

Passionate about the Food Manufacturing industry having spent time as a Supply Chain Manager and Business Development Manager for two of the UK’s largest meat importers.

High Care, Low Care, Chilled and Ambient I have worked across all markets including B2B, Foodservice, Wholesale and Retail.

I fell into recruitment in 2016 to start a Food & Drink desk in a long-standing Engineering Recruitment business in the West Midlands.

Progressing on to Business Development Manager covering multiple markets before starting my own agency in September 2020.

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