We spend a large percentage of our lives at work. Having a good job, one we enjoy and one where we feel respected and supported can have a great impact on our health and happiness. Work is our professional space and for many this is a welcome dimension to our lives.
But human lives are complex things. We all encounter times that are more challenging, deliver high stress and make us feel more anxious. Sometimes these pass on their own, but sometimes they turn into serious issues of anxiety and depression. Work-related stress can be a key trigger to aggravate existing issues. One in four of us will experience mental health issues at some time in our life. Fortunately, mental health awareness is on the rise and the stigmas and taboos surrounding it are diminishing. There is much that can be done in the workplace to help people’s wellbeing, and mental health support and counselling can even be a legitimate business expense, as outlined in a recent article by Brighton and Hove Psychotherapy. So, what are the benefits and rules around counselling in the workplace, and as a business cost?
What does counselling offer?
Counselling comes in a variety of formats and approaches. Which one is appropriate depends on the type of person, the type of problem and the desired outcome. The important point is they are all ‘talking’ therapies that involve someone talking through their issues with a counsellor. The benefits depend on the issue at hand and the NHS sets out some of what can be expected. But by setting aside time to deal with a difficulty in someone’s life, the counsellor will help them to see things from a different perspective, find ways to cope, improve relationships and better manage symptoms of stress and anxiety. The fundament aim is to improve an individual’s overall wellbeing.
How does counselling as a business expense work?
Businesses come in very different shapes and sizes, so what counts as a legitimate running cost will vary. Equally counselling covers a wide remit. People usually first consider counselling when they hit a crisis; when problems in their lives are affecting their mood or behaviour in a way that is preventing them from functioning normally. This may well affect their ability to work and therefore there is scope to provide counselling as a business requirement. Counselling is a relational process, where better self-understanding is gained through the relationship with the counsellor. Being able to better manage anxiety and strong emotions will also help people to function effectively. This in turn can help improve wider personal and professional relationships.
Couple therapy can be an appropriate expense where a couple run a business together; it can have an important role in stabilising the relationship in difficult times, opening effective dialogue and benefitting their working relationship.
The law on mental health
With rising awareness, more provision is being made to protect employees mental health at work and there are many legal rights set out from human rights to health and safety rights. Mentalhealth.org.uk lays out some of the details of these. People with ongoing mental health issues fall under the definition of disability and are protected by law from discrimination and harassment as well as being entitled to seek ‘reasonable adjustments.’ Employers are given benefits to encourage them to support their staff. They don’t have tax, National Insurance or reporting obligations where they make welfare counselling services available to all employees. Welfare counselling covers support for bereavement, ill health or stress, problems at work, sexual abuse or personal relationship difficulties.
Why and how to encourage good mental health at work
Whilst society is opening up to these issues, many people still won’t disclose their mental health problems at work. Creating a space where people feel supported and able to talk about their issues means that they are much more likely to be able to overcome them, and to be more productive and secure. This will also feeds into a positive work culture where people feel valued. It is worth remembering most issues are relatively mild and successfully treated.
Good practices at work include regular communication with employees, a management structure that feels open and approachable, giving people a change to be heard and offering flexibility. These can make a workplace much more effective as well as helping staff. More employers are offering private health insurance as a benefit these days and this will often cover counselling. A good company will also support those needing to take time off to attend therapy sessions. These issues affect many people and so it’s great that our understanding of mental health is improving. But there is still a way to go. Work places can make a real difference by showing they are open, supportive and non-judgemental.
Photo credits: Coworking London