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International Nurses' Day - Workplace mental well-being: civility at work by Helen Kirk

For International Nurses' Day we are looking at 'health as a human right.' Health in the workplace is a vital element and, as nurses, if we can create a health promoting environment for ourselves, we can influence and help build out a similar culture in the community we work in. Helen Kirk offers a personal blog on mental well-being in the workplace.

There is persuasive evidence that good quality work is generally beneficial for health. Good quality employment means a clearly defined role with reasonable demands in a supportive and safe environment where there is some flexibility to meet each workers unique needs. Not everyone is fortunate to have good quality work.

The most common health issues arising from work are reduced mental wellbeing, such as depression, anxiety and stress. Work related mental health issues result in about 10 million days of sickness absence every year. Good job design and good people management practices reduce the risk. Two factors can be a source of stress or protection against it. Organisational culture and interpersonal relationships can be healthy or unhealthy. As Prof Susan Michie has noted “a positive social dimension of work and good team working reduces” stress.

Work is good for health but it’s still nice to have a break from it. I try not to think too much about work when I’m on leave but spending time at home is an opportunity to reflect on key things in life, such as family and friends, social pursuits, and personal development. Most recently it was also an opportunity to watch events in PyeongChang as our Paralympians competed on the world stage and with considerable success.

Paralympians exemplify how work, in this case elite sport, can be a positive contributor to both physical and mental wellbeing. Every Paralympian relies on a supportive team to perform at their best and success in some events is wholly dependent on fantastic working relationships. Most people won’t do elite sports, but they will achieve the best they can in their work if there is genuine teamwork and supportive relationships.

We don’t really need research to tell us some behaviours at work have an adverse impact on mental wellbeing but reports are still published regularly. I am a Fellow of the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses and reading its journal I was surprised to see a report from Natasha Collins and Bonnie Rogers titled “growing concerns with workplace incivility”. The number of publications on incivility in healthcare, and in nursing specifically, is increasing.

I have seen many acts of kindness in recent weeks that have resulted inevitably in enhanced mental wellbeing. Our most decorated winter Paralympian, Menna Fitzpatrick, took time out of her hectic schedule to let me tweet her photo supporting #AllOurHealth. Kindness is a valuable antidote to the risks of stress.

We can’t all make sure those around us at work enjoy a clearly defined role with reasonable demands in a supportive and safe environment, but we do all contribute to a supportive culture and positive relationships. My holiday reflection was to do more of the positive things and encourage others to do the same.

We should all do more to reduce mental health issues associated with work. We must eliminate incivility and act kindly in our workplaces. Doing this doesn’t just help others, it helps us too.

Helen Kirk, Lead for Occupational Nursing and Midwifery at Public Health England

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