Mental Health Awareness in Food Manufacturing

Mental health in the food industry is not something that has previously received much attention. Like many other industries, from construction to healthcare, there has been an established culture that has unfortunately seen staff as a cost to control, not an asset to develop.

Over the last few years there has thankfully been a change in perception and attitude towards mental health with progressive organisations embedding initiatives to support their staff and raise the profile of employee mental health. However, there is still a lot to be done and addressed, particularly in the food sector.

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, which is particularly pertinent timing given the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic that is having a significant impact on the nation’s mental health. The food industry and its workers have been heavily impacted by this crisis, mentally, emotionally, and financially.

Never before has the food industry faced such demands on their services as factories and supermarkets worked around the clock to keep shelves stocked and establishments safe against a backdrop of significant health concerns.

On the flip side, companies including manufacturers, farming and logistics that relied on the hospitality industry for a bulk of their business, have faced huge hits to profits. This will sadly lead to job losses and even the closure of establishments. Some staff will have been on long-term furlough and lockdown in their homes which can also impact people’s emotions.

All of these circumstances will undoubtedly have an effect on people’s mental health as money worries, lack of confidence and motivation, uncertainty, pressure and family strains take hold.

The UK food industry is a leading light globally when it comes to innovation in products, processes and packaging. Now is the time for us to step up and become an industry leading example on how we support and look after our staff’s mental wellbeing.

How can food factories support their staff wellbeing?

There is a real worry amongst workers they will be placed in a vulnerable position if they speak out about their mental health. Will it put me at risk of redundancy? Will people think badly of me? Will I lose out on opportunities? These are all questions that could prevent people seeking help from others.

Both absenteeism and presenteeism (when people work in an unfit state) costs the economy billions each year. By looking after our staff and seeing them as a valuable asset to the company will improve output, product innovation, client and employee satisfaction and profits.

The Institute of Directors have shared some interesting insights for management on how to approach mental health in the workplace and create a positive culture, and the charity Mental Health at Work includes some useful resources on their site.

Key tips include:

  • Engage with employees – find out what is the current mental wellbeing of the team and how can you measure and monitor this on an ongoing basis
  • Develop a mental health policy that includes having mental health first aid trainers on site and reviews of the physical workplace
  • Create a workplace wellness strategy that includes a calendar of activities throughout the year
  • Develop a training and job satisfaction programme which is focused on developing in-house talent

Mental health Awareness shouldn’t be limited to one week of the year. We live in a very different world to what we knew only 4 months ago. For our society and economy to come back stronger we need to look at how we can support each other and change old approaches and processes that are no longer fit for purpose.

I’ve proudly worked in the food industry for over 15 years and I’m confident we can take this challenge and make the sector one which puts our people first when it comes to their mental health.

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