In this article, we outline a strategy for promoting a positive mental health culture at your site and explore the many benefits of making this goal a top priority.

According to government statistics, 35.2 million working days were lost in Britain between 2023 and 2024, with 17.1 million of those days attributed to stress, depression, or anxiety. On average, each person suffering took around 19.6 days off to cope with their mental health.

As well as being hugely difficult for the individuals struggling with their wellbeing, you can see how these statistics point to a serious problem for companies trying to maintain a happy and productive workforce. They also show that caring about your workers isn’t just the right thing to do, but also the best way to safeguard the success of your business.

With this in mind, we have created a guide to effectively supporting operatives within the world of food and beverage production. We hope that it can act as a useful resource when convincing all levels of your operation to join in your push for a positive and progressive approach to mental health.

1. What motivates your operatives?

The first step is to engage with your operatives on an individual basis, taking the time to find out what motivates them and why they chose the role they are in. Say you are talking to a Hygiene Manager. It’s important to work out why they chose a position that often involves minimal social contact. If this is something they like about the role, perhaps you could support them on the occasions when they do need to step outside their comfort zone. Alternatively, if they enjoy socialising and struggle with a sense of being shut off, you can make sure they have plenty of opportunity to collaborate with other departments, inviting your Hygiene Manager to team meetings or even taking simple steps such as looping them into relevant email chains.

If you are working at a large site with a high number of operatives, sending out a company wide survey is an effective way to speed up this process. Through this survey, you can find out whether or not your team is satisfied with their work life and identify any areas where changes need to be made. If your survey has a section dedicated to mental health and wellbeing, you should give your workers the option of remaining anonymous, as this will increase the likelihood of you receiving honest feedback.

A survey could also provide you with a chance to find out if your site’s culture is clearly understood. Here at Klipspringer, our core values are: care, competence, and focus. If your site doesn’t already have its own core values established, now is the perfect time to take this step. This will encourage your operatives to work towards a collective goal. Depending on the values you choose, it could also help your team to feel valued, respected, and part of something important.

2. Is there an issue with isolation at your site?

Isolation can increase the risk of depression, anxiety, and cognitive decline. It is also a common issue within the food production industry, with many operatives working unsociable hours and under conditions that make it difficult to form connections.

To address this issue, you need to ensure everyone at your site knows who to turn to if a problem arises, if they are unhappy with their working conditions, or if they are feeling disconnected from wider factory decisions. These interactions shouldn’t just be about the negatives though, you should also encourage workers to voice their ideas and ambitions – solving problems and sharing their daily wins.

Another important step is to find time for your operatives to attend networking events, industry forums, or even online webinars that connect individuals working in a similar role. Take your Hygiene Manager, for example. Typically working nights and to the pressure of tight deadlines, you can imagine how validating it would be for them to connect with someone else in this position – pooling their industry experience to resolve common issues.

3. Are there any tensions that need to be resolved?

The next step is to identify potential sources of stress for your operatives. One popular example is the tension between Hygiene and Production teams. All too often, hygiene operatives will grow frustrated with the state an area is left in when production has finished for the day, with equipment put back in the wrong place and on-the-spot cleans falling to the wayside. Equally, production operatives will often feel let down if a hygiene window overruns or the length of this window is extended over time.

Instead of allowing situations like these to spiral out of control, it’s important that you turn conflict into collaboration – bringing together departments and nurturing a unified workforce. One way to do this is to involve senior members of each department in important decisions from the very beginning. You should welcome their feedback on matters such as the length of the hygiene window, the decision to invest in new equipment, and the launch of a new product.

If you are a department lead yourself, you should consider attending other team meetings, embracing the chance to learn more about the goals and challenges of your colleagues. You could also float the idea of each department sharing a company-wide update at the end of every week/month. This update will shine a light on the work being done across your site, helping your operatives to understand the importance of each team.

4. Are your operatives being listened to?

It will be almost impossible for you to ascertain the mental wellbeing of your team without an open line of communication. Operatives at your site are unlikely to feel valued and motivated if their input never seems to be acted upon or, at the very least, seriously considered. This is where you need to consider the stakeholders in your factory and the overall goals of your business.

Understandably, a lot of decisions made at a senior level will relate to finance and business development. Therefore, it is important that the individuals impacted by these decisions, such as Technical, Production, and Hygiene Managers, have the training they need to communicate effectively. Here, you should encourage collaboration between departments.

You could even arrange a training session with someone from your financial department. In this session, they could run through the basics of putting together a proposal or identifying key points when requesting the role out of a new instrument or piece of equipment.

You should also take time to consider team members who don’t have English as their first language, as it’s important that they are not left out of your efforts to nurture a collaborative and communicative workforce. One solution is to make your communications as simple, accessible, and visual as possible.

In a recent webinar for the Food Safety Innovation Conference, Denis Treacy shared an anecdote where he put up drawings of a site on all the walls, then asked operatives in each team to write their questions, concerns, and ideas. This activity is suitable for everyone, especially if you have a team leader on hand to note down verbal comments as well as written ones.

Of course activities like this won’t solve any problems your operatives are facing at home or help them to deal with serious mental health concerns. However, this could be a great way to ensure honest and open conversations are a familiar part of your operation. It could also be the start of motivating your operatives, giving them a sense of purpose and a reason to look forward to coming into work. 

5. Do you workers feel secure in their role?

Depending on the kind of site you work at, automation may feel like a far off prospect. Alternatively, it may be a subject that you discuss on a regular basis. Either way, it is likely that your team will have heard about its future in the food production industry, and if this is the case, they could be concerned about their job security.

Research has shown that individuals who are concerned about the reliability of their employment are more likely to struggle with symptoms of anxiety and depression. The answer is the education of your workforce – training your operatives to understand the ways in which automation could make their working lives easier, solving problems as opposed to stealing their jobs.

This could even be an opportunity for you to inspire your team, capturing the imagination of operatives who were previously hard to motivate. As with any role out of new technology or equipment, it is important to appoint ‘cheerleaders’ in every department, individuals who have a passion for the advancement and are happy to share this passion with the people around them.

By giving these individuals the opportunity to attend industry events, training sessions, or to meet with prospective suppliers, you will not only be securing their loyalty and dedication, but will also be giving them purpose and a newfound sense of confidence.

6. Is respect an important part of your company's culture?

Dignity and respect are important words to use when discussing matters of mental health. As with any workplace, it’s important that your operatives feel valued and protected. With this in mind, you should evaluate the equipment you are asking your teams to use. Do they have the correct PPE to keep them safe from extreme temperatures, ongoing discomfort, and harmful chemicals? Are they using utensils that are suited to the task at hand, ergonomically designed to reduce the risk of strain or injury? Could their working lives be made easier with the introduction of new and more effective equipment? Instead of cutting corners, it’s important that the safety and comfort of your team is prioritised.

So there you have it, a guide to prioritising the mental health of your operatives. We hope that you have come away with some actionable steps for nurturing a positive culture at your site. We also hope that this guide has highlighted the connection between positivity and productivity, with a happy workforce promising increased levels of efficiency, quality, and employee retention.

If you would like additional support as you carry out these steps or would like to share your experience of working in the world of food and beverage production, you can contact us on 01473 461800 or Alternatively, you can fill out the contact form below and one of our friendly team members will be in touch. 

If you would like further guidance or support, the Klipspringer team would be happy to help. Share your details below to arrange a free consultation.