Why a new approach to workplace mental health is needed for 2023

workplace mental health

With the pandemic having reframed the conversation around mental health, Alana Warburton-Whitehead, Wellbeing Lead at British civil engineering company Lanes Group, believes forward-thinking employers in every industry are looking for ways to introduce new and improved measures to ensure staff get the support they need in 2023 and beyond. In this article, she shares her opinion on the reasons for this and looks at some of the steps that businesses can take.

Why 2023 is a year for action on mental health

As we head into 2023, there is little doubt that workplace mental health has become a much more pressing issue in recent years.

The causes of stress, anxiety or poor mental health in the workplace are numerous, with some of the most common including:

  • Excessive workloads
  • High-pressure environments
  • Workers’ dissatisfaction with their performance or the performance of others
  • A lack of managerial support
  • Bad relationships with managers and colleagues
  • Overlong working hours
  • Uncertainty and upheaval in the workplace
  • Violence, threats or intimidation in the workplace

Research carried out for Lanes Group’s 2019 whitepaper, “The Current State Of Mental Wellbeing In UK Workplaces”, offered evidence of this trend. Our survey of more than 1,000 working adults showed that:

  • 80% of respondents said they are required to work outside of their contracted hours
  • 22% have had to take time off work due to stress during their careers
  • 27% do not feel able to speak to their manager about mental health issues

As high as some of these figures are, these trends have worsened since the start of the pandemic The WHO estimates that COVID-19 triggered a 25% increase in general anxiety and depression worldwide, with workers across all industries experiencing stress, upheaval and uncertainty during the lockdowns, whether due to the risk of losing their jobs or the pressures of working from home in relative isolation.

Since then, the cost of living crisis, the looming recession and broader anxieties about the war in Ukraine and the climate emergency are deepening the workplace mental health crisis. This is driving thousands of people out of the workforce, with analysis from Sky News showing that levels of economic inactivity among the long-term sick jumped by 537,500 between the year to June 2019 and the year to June 2022, of which 454,300 can be attributed to mental health conditions.

With the number of employed people with long-term mental health conditions also rising by 816,400 over the same period, it is clear that mental health needs to be at the forefront of conversations about how companies can better support their workforce.

How employers can better support their staff’s mental health

Amidst the rising prevalence of mental health conditions, current workplace support policies are proving insufficient to prevent the mental health crisis from spiralling. As such, employers must get creative about revamping their mental health policies to better address the challenges that today’s workers are facing.

Here are just a few of the ways in which employers can create a more supportive working environment that promotes mental wellness:

  • Ensure managers and HR professionals are educated on understanding mental health challenges, including how to recognise the signs of anxiety, depression and burnout in the workforce
  • Appoint designated mental health champions and mental health first aiders in the office to provide a supportive point of contact for those who are struggling
  • Provide a defined and compassionate pathway for people experiencing mental health crises to reduce their workloads or take time off work, including a process for allowing them to return to work in a supportive way
  • Be flexible with working hours and remote working opportunities, allowing staff members to achieve a better work-life balance
  • Encourage staff to take time for themselves, whether this means providing a well-equipped designated break area for on-site workers, or making sure that staff members are not routinely working longer than their contracted hours
  • Make greater efforts to recognise your staff’s achievements, to foster a better team spirit and show them that their contributions are meaningful and valued
  • Reflect your mental health policies and approach to inclusion in your recruitment and induction processes, to ensure new workers understand how the business will support them
  • Have open conversations with your staff members to find out what they feel they need from you in terms of mental health support, and develop your policies around this feedback

These are just a few examples of the kinds of interventions that can make a big difference to your staff. Above all, it is vital to recognise that this is an area that requires improvements, and commit to reviewing or revamping your mental health policies to ensure they are fit for purpose in 2023.

Beyond the tick box

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of employers to support staff with action, rather than just with tick-box exercises. By leading by example to create a genuinely inclusive culture and training all their staff in mental health awareness, businesses across all sectors can help their workers to be accountable for their health, gain confidence to open up and show vulnerability, and ultimately feel better in themselves, while giving others the confidence to do the same.

About the author:

Alana Warburton-Whitehead is Wellbeing Lead at Lanes Group

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