Businesses and managers need to support their workforce to speak about, and prioritise, mental health and promote a healthy work-life balance – here’s why
This is an edited version of an article which first appeared on the Open Access Government website.
Within every business there will be those who suffer in silence to the point that control is lost and the very act of getting out of bed becomes utterly overwhelming. Employees are still reluctant to share mental health information with their managers or bosses, seemingly for good reason. The stigma associated with mental health – being treated unfairly, becoming the subject of office gossip or compromising their employment terms – are all legitimate fears.
Mental health and work in the UK
Studies suggest that millennials display the highest levels of anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide of any generation, and they are also, simultaneously, on the cusp of becoming the largest global workforce by 2020.
According to Deloitte, the average person spends 90,000 hours of their life working, and poor employee mental health can be due to factors internal or external to the workplace. Without effective management, this can have a serious impact on physical health, productivity and more.
In the modern workplace, smart employers are placing workplace wellness at the core of their business by recognising the importance of their staff. They are going beyond protocol, processes and profits to ensure individuals feel valued and supported. Wellness and workplace health initiatives are varied but include everything from serious interventions and counselling services to mindfulness training, flexible working and even options like yoga, time off and massages at work.
That said, an alarming number of companies are still avoiding the topic of mental health in the workplace. A report by the Centre for Mental Health revealed that absence due to mental health cost the UK economy £34.9 billion last year. Additionally, the economy lost:
- £21.2 billion in reduced productivity.
- £10.6 billion in sick leave.
- £3.1 billion in staff turnover.
It’s time to prioritise wellbeing at work
Of the five million people being signed off from work every year, data from NHS shows an alarming 31% are taking time out due to mental health, with a shocking 14% rise in doctor’s notes relating to anxiety and stress in one year. This is why the NHS has called on businesses to wake up to the reality of mental health and its dire effects on the wellbeing of its employees and overall workplace success.
What can employers do?
- Minimise the stigma: a study from Business in the Community shows that only 53% of employees feel comfortable talking about mental health issues like depression and anxiety at work. Instead of making employees feel like liabilities or burdens, employers need to take active steps to encourage conversations around these issues. Taking a mental health day, or asking for support around mental health issues, should not impact an employee’s reputation or how they are treated at work.
- Pay attention: around 91% of managers agree that their actions affect their staff’s wellbeing; however, only 24% of managers have received any training in mental health. This lack of training and sensitivity only works to perpetuate the culture of silence around mental health and wellbeing at work. Companies should be working to combat this by monitoring employee stress, encouraging communication and taking active steps to increase knowledge around the issue.
- Be more flexible: there are several ways to boost employee engagement and happiness in the modern workplace. Around 70% of employees want a say in when and how they work – and growth in flexible working shows more businesses are responding. Introducing a flexible working option is one of the ways businesses can prioritise their employees’ personal needs while benefitting from their productivity boost, too. Nearly half of employees advocate for flexible working hours as a way to reduce workplace stress and anxiety, increase productivity and improve morale and engagement.
- Introduce mental health initiatives: it is crucial to increase employee awareness of mental health at work, support employees at risk and take steps to support those suffering from mental health problems. Education is key, and strategies need to be tailor-made to suit each business and its needs. Aside from increasing workplace happiness with perks, time off and better communication, businesses need to look at long-term policies which advocate for better treatment for at-risk employees from every tier of the organisation.
- Manage via a coaching approach: historically, tyrannical managers focused on ‘the numbers’ or ‘getting the job done’ has been the norm but, fortunately, the modern workplace has changed. Today, the manager who adopts a more holistic approach by focusing on the growth and development of their team, personally and professionally, will see greater results and engagement. Investing in a coaching approach has shown clear improvements across all areas as well as improved trust between managers and employees. Getting this balance right enables employees to speak about their levels of stress, their worries about their roles, and more.
Placing health and wellbeing at the heart of business can help employers attract and retain talent, improve productivity and happiness, and positively impact the bottom line. Educating the workforce on the availability of programmes where they can find support in a confidential and respectful manner will help to address personal challenges before they become overwhelming.