With World Mental Health Day around the corner, employers will be asking themselves if they are doing enough to address mental ill-health in the workplace and sadly for many, the answer will be no.
Fortunately, companies do not need substantial budgets and resources to improve mental health and raise awareness across their organisation. In this article we outline a number of actions which can be taken by both employers and employees to ensure a positive working environment where mental health and wellbeing is taken seriously.
According to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), stress, depression or anxiety now account for 55% of all working days lost due to work-related ill health. This figure has drastically increased over the last few years and so business leaders must consider how they can address it.
The reality for employers
Mental ill-health can be a result of problems both inside and outside of the workplace. From lack of managerial support to an unmanageable workload or financial difficulties to losing a loved-one, there are many factors which can cause mental ill-health and it is often a combination of several. While some employers may feel that issues outside the workplace are not to be discussed, the reality is that anything impacting a person’s mental health will have a knock on effect on their performance in the workplace.
Chloe Holland, HR Manager at iHASCO, believes that in order to get the best out of your employees you need to show that you genuinely care for them and value their service. “Employers who actively support staff with mental ill-health, whatever the cause, will find their employees are more committed to the business. If employees can see that a business leads with compassion this is likely to have a positive effect on the overall team morale and lead to greater business successes.”
It’s important for employees to feel comfortable talking about their mental health in the workplace, as they would their physical health. Organisations that are able to provide early intervention in supporting employees with their mental health are more likely to reduce the impact on the business. In fact research by Deloitte found that on average for every pound spent on supporting employee mental health, employers receive a five pound return through a reduction of employee turnover, absenteeism and presenteeism. It actually pays to invest in your employees mental health.
The desire for change
Talking to James Wilson, Mental Health First Aider and New Business Sales Manager at iHASCO, the right attitude towards mental health needs to come from the top. “Leaders and managers are in a great position to check in with their staff and find out how they are coping. Only by building a culture whereby mental health and wellbeing is prioritised, will employees feel able to open up about any mental health difficulties. We’ve been on our own journey as a business in the past couple of years and now fully understand and appreciate just how important mental health and wellbeing is to achieving our goals.”
This obviously takes time, but perhaps if there is one good thing to come out of the COVID pandemic it’s that people are talking more openly about their mental health. Breaking down the stigma surrounding this topic is hugely important if companies are to make a positive impact when it comes to normalising conversations about mental ill-health.
Recently, there have been numerous examples of companies providing staff with wellbeing days, to take time off and recharge after additional pressures placed on them as a result of COVID. While this is a noble gesture it is unlikely to make any lasting impact on mental health in the workplace unless it is supported with a range of proactive measures. A holistic approach, where employee mental health and wellbeing is fully embedded into every fibre of a company’s culture is key to achieve change.
Change starts with small steps
If an employer is truly committed to addressing mental ill-health in the workplace, there are many resources available to guide and support that journey. This could be as simple as listening to a podcast or downloading a whitepaper. From this, gain information and ideas to support employee wellbeing and translate them into a mental health strategy – one that supports those already diagnosed with a mental health condition, as well as focusing on preventative measures.
It can be difficult to start the conversation, but there are many ways an employer can raise awareness of mental health in the workplace. Enrol employees on appropriate online training courses, organise a seminar with a guest speaker, or simply email helpful guides & blog links which address mental health awareness and offer advice on improving wellbeing, understanding and easing workplace stress and managing anxiety. It’s important to recognise that these first steps must be followed up and communication should be sent regularly, so employees can become more comfortable with discussing these topics at work more openly.
In addition to this, consider other support mechanisms for employees. It could be wellbeing check-ins with line managers, Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) or Mental Health First Aiders. “Providing employees with a platform to talk about their mental health and wellbeing will allow them to reach out for help when they need it”, says James Wilson. “Sometimes having someone there to listen can make a real difference. That’s where being a trained mental health first aider or using an EAP can be a big help – as the right knowledge and support can be given.”
Most importantly, lead by example. Showing vulnerability and being honest can go a long way towards building an open culture that discusses mental health freely and encourages employees to support one another. Simply by strengthening relationships employees will feel more able to open up and have the confidence that they will receive support when they need it most. Offering flexible working or reducing a person’s workload could be the difference between them being able to cope or not. Mental ill-health is a serious issue and businesses can make a real difference to their employees lives, in fact ensuring your employees have the information and support they need could be life changing. This World Mental Health Day employers have the opportunity to make a positive impact on mental health awareness in the workplace. All it takes is those first small steps to lead to big changes.