In part two of our special focus on mental wellness, we look at what support is available from industry bodies, and share tips from Mind to help employers and groundstaff recognise issues within themselves and provide help to others…
In the UK, both industry bodies and employers are aware of the rising problem that stems from poor mental health among groundstaff and greenkeepers. As such, they have put in place initiatives to help.
The Institute of Groundsmanship (IOG) has a confidential service for its membership that will field calls for help, and also refer people to expert help and assistance where relevant and necessary. “Mental health issues are complex and cannot be treated on block – each person has to firstly be treated as an individual,” says Geoff Webb, CEO of IOG. “Analytically, it does appear to be an issue that is on the increase. The increased exposure of sport brought about by terrestrial TV to a global audience must be considered a factor, alongside the pressure and extent of sport played week in week out. You then have to consider pay and reward against risk – for example, do groundsmen get paid enough for what they do? Are the employers giving enough credence to the teams working to produce a surface?”
As has been previously noted, it is in the best interest of employers to find ways to mitigate stress and provide adequate support. It is estimated that better mental health support in the workplace can save UK businesses up to £8 billion per year, but the benefits that can be gleaned from offering better support extend far beyond the financial. According to Geoff, these regular support programmes should also adopt a holistic approach. “We fear that at present it is more a reactive system than a proactive system in this regard – too often it is the case that employers only react when a person has reached crisis point. There is still some education required from employers, but likewise, it is important that any individual who may be feeling stress or pressurised can highlight this and trust their employer to take it seriously. Pride can often be a barrier but there is no shame in asking for help.”
Understanding and tackling stress
Jim Croxton, CEO of BIGGA, believes one of the leading causes of high stress in greenkeeping specifically is the rapid rate of change occurring. “I think for anyone, change can be difficult, but perhaps especially for our members who are trying to present the most consistent product possible. The industry is facing rapid change in terms of management and customer expectations – you have some clubs who want different courses almost day by day. I think that environment of change is hugely stressful and difficult and challenging for greenkeepers.” It has been established that communication is a key tool in the fight to broaden awareness and help those affected seek help sooner, and Jim notes the industry can be quite solitary in nature. “Perhaps the reason stress is felt more acutely with greenkeepers is that many who enter this industry, either consciously or subconsciously, do so because they have an aversion to communicating or don’t have a natural gift for it. In a role like greenkeeping, it’s quite a solitary profession. The only real solution of managing stress is communicating, so it’s inherently quite difficult for a lot of the guys.”
BIGGA is taking a three-pronged approach to managing mental health in the golf environment; firstly, the association is striving to educate employers about the application of stress by providing information about just what is expected of greenkeepers.
“The job of a greenkeeper is stressful – we need to provide management with more information about the changing environment, restrictions of pesticides usage, expectations from players and the fact that it is all against the backdrop of a sport that’s not growing. “One thing I think employers get wrong or underestimate is how personally greenkeepers take everything. When you see guys having trouble with their greens, it’s not unlike seeing someone having relationship problems – it’s that personal. Some guys even refer to the course as ‘she’ – ‘she’s suffering a lot at the minute, she’s underwater,’ that kind of thing.”
Then, there are initiatives to help members individually and as groups to realise the importance of improving communication skills. “The third thing – which I think is in many ways the hardest – is to get people talking to each other,” adds Jim. There’s also a free confidential helpline available to all members, and alongside that there is a website filled with resources. “We do have a team of regional staff – and while they are not trained staff – they are employed to support and serve the needs of our members, and they’re very keen to help in any way they can. I always marvel at how good our guys are at solving problems relating to turf when they get together, and I think increasingly we are seeing how they can help each other handle difficult situations elsewhere in the fraternity of greenkeeping.”
Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing Index is a benchmark of best policy and practice when it comes to mental health at work.
According to Emma Mamo, Head of Workplace Wellbeing at Mind, men leave it too late when it comes to seeking help for mental health issues – if they seek help at all. “Many men wait too long before seeing their GP, discounting low mood or anxiety as just day-to-day feelings,” she says. “It’s not the same as being ‘a bit shy’ or a bit low and it’s important to seek help as soon as possible if you feel like the symptoms are interfering with your ability to do the things you normally would for more than a couple of weeks. Mind has produced a guide on how to speak to your GP about mental health, found at www.mind.org.uk/findthewords.”
Emma notes that often, frequently cited causes of stress and poor mental health are preventable, such as long working hours, excessive workload, unrealistic targets, and poor relationships with managers and other colleagues. Unfortunately, many of these are often endemic to the role of a groundsmen and greenkeepers, which can make it difficult to balance getting the necessary work done whilst maintaining mental wellness. “We recommend employees sit down with their managers and jointly draw up Wellness Action Plans (available for free from Mind’s website),” says Emma. “Because everyone responds to stress differently, these tailored plans allow you to identify your individual triggers for stress and poor mental health and what can be done to help prevent or alleviate it.”
Mind has provided some more details for employers, employees, colleagues and individuals to help everyone working in the turf industry better manage mental health…
What should employers look out for when it comes to stress and mental health?
“People with mental health problems can and do make a valuable contribution to the workplace, but might need extra support,” says Emma. “If you’re a manager, ask someone what support they need. It could be as simple as meeting regularly, or it might involve slight changes to hours, workspace, or roles and responsibilities. If you’re worried about a colleague, talk to them and listen to their response. Try not to make assumptions about their mental health and how it might impact on their ability to do their job, and always respect confidentiality.”
Everyone’s mood can fluctuate day-to-day, so it can be hard to know whether someone is just going through a difficult period, or whether they’re experiencing something serious or long term, such as the symptoms of a mental health problem. Often, there may be no outward sign and you should never make assumptions about people’s mental health, but there are some common symptoms of which you should be aware:
- Someone experiencing a mental health problem like depression may struggle with day-to-day tasks and their motivation, punctuality and decision-making.
- They may behave differently – an employee who is normally outgoing and chatty may become quiet and withdrawn.
- Changes in people’s behaviour or mood, or how they interact with colleagues.
- Appearing tired, anxious or withdrawn and losing interest in activities and tasks they previously enjoyed.
- Changes in eating habits, appetite and increased smoking and drinking.
How can you support a colleague who might be experiencing a mental health problem?
There may be other things that trigger a colleague’s mental health, for example, feeling stressed, relationship problems, a bereavement or money worries. You may be able to learn what a colleague’s triggers are, or spot when an episode might be starting, and encourage them to take action before it gets any worse.
Encourage them to talk – start by talking about general wellbeing, and let people know that they can talk to you if they need to.
- Remember, everyone’s experience of mental health problems is different, so focus on the person, not the problem. Staying silent is one of the worst things people can do and opening up and talking about how they’re feeling can in turn help them feel more relaxed about chatting to their manager. Even if they don’t want to speak about it at that time, you’ve still let them know you care, and you’re there for them when the time is right.
- Encourage them to seek support from the workplace – if someone feels like their workload is spiralling out of control, encourage them to discuss it with their manager or supervisor. If their manager doesn’t create the space for them to be able to talk about wellbeing, it can be more difficult to start this dialogue. It depends on the relationship they have with their manager, but if they have a good relationship and trust them, then they could meet them on a one to one basis to discuss what’s going on. Having someone from HR present will make the meeting more formal, and normally wouldn’t be necessary in the first instance. But, if they didn’t get anywhere with the first meeting then it might be a sensible next step.
- Avoid making assumptions – don’t try to guess what symptoms a co-worker might have and how these might affect their life or their ability to do their job – many people are able to manage their condition and perform their role to a high standard.
- Respect confidentiality – remember mental health information is confidential and sensitive. Don’t pass on information unnecessarily – not least because this breach of trust could negatively impact someone’s mental health.
Tips for managing your own mental health and wellbeing at work
Anyone can experience a mental health problem and we know certain industries can foster a culture where people may feel uncomfortable about seeking help, or the setup and environment can discourage staff from taking small steps to help look after their own wellbeing.
If you’re based on site for example, it can be hard to do the things you might do outside work to help keep you mentally healthy, such as taking regular exercise and eating a healthy diet. External factors such as light, noise levels and temperature can also have a massive impact on our wellbeing and these are much harder to control if you work outside than if you’re based in an office.
- Take a proper lunch break – and do something that’s a total distraction from work.
- Get a good night’s sleep – not getting enough sleep can negatively impact your mental health as well as worsen your productivity at work.
- Get some fresh air – outdoor exercise can boost your mood, even if it’s just a short walk.
- Where possible avoid working long hours – it might help get urgent work done in the short term, but over long periods of time can leave you feeling frazzled.
- Be realistic – you don’t have to be perfect all the time – don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t get everything right all the time; we all make mistakes.
- Make sure you take a time off work – it doesn’t have to mean going abroad. Simply taking a week off at home can be essential to recharge your batteries.
- Be assertive – say no if you can’t take on extra demands that are being asked of you.
- Try to take tasks one at a time, until each is finished – if you try to do too many at once, you’re more likely to end up muddled and accomplishing less.
- Reflect on what you have achieved – at the end of each day, sit back and reflect on what you’ve done and what you’ve achieved, rather than spending time worrying about what still needs to be done.
- Leave work at work – whether it’s closing the door behind you as you leave work, or as you sit down on the bus – take a moment to pause and look ahead to the time you have to yourself for the rest of the evening.
Want some more help?
All employees can find information and practical steps to promote wellbeing, tackle stress and poor mental health at work by visiting www.mind.org.uk/work.
With thanks to Mind, Perennial, BIGGA, the IOG, and the groundstaff who volunteered their experiences for this piece.
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