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Today marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Week and there's never been a better time for businesses and employees to engage with the issue of Mental Health. The theme of the awareness week this year is physical activity and it's impact on mental health and I've addressed some of the key questions around the subject in this video blog.

We spend much of our lives in the workplace and organisations play a huge role in shaping the good mental health of their employees; that means creating the supportive environment to help individuals manage pressure and stress, and specific interventions and assistance programmes. Watch my video blog here and don't forget take a look at Good Day at Work™ for more free wellbeing and mental health resources - you can sign up here

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Blue Monday, the day when we are supposedly at our lowest and most vulnerable to depression, is set to fall on the 21st January this year. Or is it? 

One of the peculiarities of this ‘darkest day’ is that Well-while the formula used to calculate it has been thoroughly debunked as pseudo-science (it includes things like the weather and ‘time since Christmas’…) it continues to be covered by the media and work its way into our collective consciousness. So, if there is no real science behind Blue Monday why can’t we turn the concept around and make January a time for positive thinking?

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So, the waiting is finally over and, although the bunting is not yet out, the news about the economy is good. It's been a while since we heard those words, but during the last quarter the economy grew by 1.0% according to the official GDP figures announced this week. This was considerably better than many commentators had predicted and, while the one-off Olympic 'bounce' was clearly a factor, it's estimated that the games only accounted for around 0.2% of the growth. Perhaps the most surprising result was that the Service sector has outstripped the overall GDP figures and has grown by 1.3% in the third quarter.

Of course, we are still not back to where we were before the financial crisis in 2008 and stability is far from assured, but surely we have to treat this as good news - especially when allied with falling unemployment and inflation? One might say that this news is too fresh and too far removed from everyday life to affect our wellbeing at work right now, but I'm not so sure. If ever there was a recipe for confidence, and that is what we badly need right now, it's a successful Olympic summer followed by this boost to economic growth. We have an opportunity here, but it's one that needs to be taken - not just by business leaders, but each of us as employees. Confidence and a positive mindset are at the heart of any successful organisation - whether it's the way that sales staff build new relationships, the way front-line staff deal with customers or the way that leaders set the direction. As we all know, outside of work confidence underpins our spending…or lack thereof!

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Workplace depression

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This week a Mori survey carried out for the European Depression Association in seven European countries, including the UK, found that over 10% of 7000 workers surveyed had taken time off for depression. The UK had the highest number of workers who were diagnosed with depression (26%), and along with Germany and Denmark, had the highest number of people taking time out of work as a result of depression (around 60% for these three countries). This suggests that although our reaction to a diagnosis is supportive, we are not being proactive enough about preventing depression in the first place.

What organisations need to do is to carry out more wellbeing/stress audits, using well researched and robust psychometrics like ASSET, to collect data from employees about how they perceive their particular workplace and organisation. Each organisation then needs to take action based on the findings of the report (which sounds obvious but is too often forgotten!) and work with employees to identify the solutions to the particular issues that emerge. Employee assistance programmes are helpful, but they tend to be a last resort for people who are already struggling. Preventative measures that address the work environment, management skills and raise personalise resilience are the way to really reduce that 26% figure.

The researchers estimated the costs of depression to European business at €93bn (£73bn), so turning a blind eye to these kinds of figures will ultimately cost organisations a great deal in terms of increased absence and labour turnover, and down the line to lower productivity as well.

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On Tuesday I attended the launch of a new Business in the Community initiative which aims to get both public and private sector organisations to publish wellbeing indicators in their annual reports. These could include stress related sickness absence, job satisfaction, employee engagement and any other data that is collected which reveals how employee wellbeing is changing year on year.

This dovetails with another of their programmes, encouraging FTSE 100 companies to complete a benchmarking questionnaire covering key areas including leadership and management development, coaching and mentoring, occupational health, health and wellbeing promotions and employee engagement.

Greater transparency in this area has a number of benefits. New recruits are increasingly focused on employee wellbeing, rather than just on salary, so this information will be valuable to them. It could also focus the attention of any CEOs who are still reluctant to take wellbeing seriously – although they’ll probably be unwilling to get involved in the first place, they’ll become conspicuous by their absence in the longer term. The action could even help increase wellbeing in its own right, by making employees feel that commitment between the organisation and the employee goes in both directions.

Wellbeing practitioners should also welcome both proposals. The first will help provide more leverage when securing senior leadership buy-in to their initiatives. As for the benchmarking project, I constantly hear from professionals responsible for engagement and wellbeing who are taking action, but don’t know whether they’re getting ahead of the curve or lagging behind. Being able to compare with others will be valuable, especially if it leads to greater sharing of best practice. Of course, there are existing ways to connect with other practitioners and experts; if you’re interested in doing so, click here to check out details of the Good Day at Work™ wellbeing professionals’ annual conference on 1st November.

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Cary CooperGood Day at Work®

The new wellbeing resources hub founded by @profcarycooper and Roberston Cooper. Join for FREE and access blogs, videos, downloads, podcasts and more.

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MD of Cary Cooper's business psychology firm, Robertson Cooper - for all things wellbeing, engagement and resilience at work.

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Professor Cary Cooper, Director and Founder of Robertson Cooper Ltd, Distinguished Professor of Organizational Psychology and Health at Manchester Business School.

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