3 things employers can do to create a better mental health culture at work.
We spend a staggering third of our lives at work, so it’s no secret that our working life has a huge impact on our mental wellbeing. That’s why it’s important for employers to take a more active role in creating a mentally healthy workplace.
In this article, we’ll look at the importance of putting a proactive employee wellbeing strategy in place and 3 ways employers can improve employee mental health by creating a harmonious environment for their staff to thrive.
Why is wellbeing in the workplace important?
Employees’ wellbeing at work was already an increasingly hot topic long before the significant impact of COVID-19 on our working environment. With remote working becoming a norm and work-related stress on the rise, the pandemic it seems has only served to exacerbate the problem with employees’ health and maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
So much so that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has classified stress as the ‘health epidemic of the twenty-first century” and the Royal College of Psychiatrists has warned that mental illness will be the ‘second pandemic’ of Covid-19.
With 65% of adults reporting deteriorated mental health during lockdown (MIND Survey 2020) or 48% feeling unable to tell their employers about problems for fear of losing their job, the state of the nation’s mental well-being is again an important subject of discussion.
These worrying stats mean it is more vital than ever that companies take steps now to apply suitable employee wellbeing initiatives and prevent these numbers from increasing even more drastically down the line.
An employees’ mental health, wellbeing and happiness, while all related, the strategies around improving these can vary dramatically. When talking about employee wellbeing, think about how their duties, expectations, work environment and job performance impact their overall wellbeing.
Organisations must realise that the occupational health support for their employees’ wellbeing goes beyond just their physical health.
Mental ill-health stigma and discrimination in the workplace
Stigma and discrimination in the workplace, whilst improving, are still some of the main issues for employers supporting employee wellbeing. This presents a problem for those who are struggling with workplace stress and need support but are perhaps too scared to ask for it.
It also poses a challenge for those returning to work after a sick absence due to mental health challenges and it can present a barrier to the recruitment of people with the right skills and experience.
The good news is that things are changing for the better. But it’s clear that there is still some way to go before we see an end to the discrimination and negative attitudes towards those with mental health problems.
The Scottish Government, in their Coronavirus (COVID-19): mental health – transition and recovery plan, said “we are working with employer groups and trade unions to promote mentally healthy workplaces. Building on a range of local and national services, we want mental health and wellbeing to be meaningfully discussed, promoted and supported, and for stigma and discrimination to be addressed.”
One of the most important ways employers can create a mentally healthy workplace is by breaking down the stigma attached.
Changing the culture of the organisation is vital to stamping out discrimination, but it must come from the leadership, and be filtered down through the organisation for it to be authentic.
Employer’s responsibility towards mental health
Ideally, an employers’ moral responsibility to their employees, their families, and the wider community they serve should be enough for them to take action against the worrying statistics, however, employers do also have a legal responsibility.
Under the Health & Safety at Work Act, an employer must assess the risk of their work practices causing stress-related ill health and is required to take the necessary action. Employers failing to take their duty seriously can find themselves at serious risk of expensive legal claims.
But there’s another compelling reason wellbeing in the workplace should be taken seriously.
Poor mental health affects productivity
Mental health is often an overlooked aspect of productivity in the workplace. However, it’s one of the most important factors to consider when trying to create positive relationships and increase worker output.
Poor mental health for an employee can manifest as decreased productivity, missed workdays, and potentially even job loss. Where wellbeing benefits can mean building positive relationships, increased job satisfaction, personal growth and career development.
Here are the facts…
1 in 4 people is affected by mental health issues in any given year according to NHS Scotland.
Twice as many women as men went to their GP because of depression or anxiety in 2010/11, but the suicide rate is three times higher for men than women. (BBC)
17.9 million working days were lost in the UK during 2019/2020 (That’s 49000 years! ). The Labour Force Survey states that mental health issues account for the majority of days lost due to work-related ill health.
21.6 days is the average duration of absence for an individual struggling with stress, depression or anxiety.
£2 billion a year is what mental health problems at work cost Scottish employers through sickness absence, presenteeism and staff turnover, according to The Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH 2011).
£10.7 billion is the estimated total cost of mental health issues in Scotland (SAMH, 2011).
So you can see how wellbeing at work can affect not just the individuals but overall productivity as well, at a heavy cost.
3 ways employers can create a better environment for their staff
There are some basic wellbeing initiatives an employer can put in place to create a mentally healthy workplace. An effective employee wellbeing strategy should include these 3 things:
Ensuring senior leaders are aware of the importance of workplace wellbeing and are championing initiatives. Roll out events and activities which raise awareness and promote good mental health and wellbeing, like relaxation techniques, healthy living, healthy eating, and a good work-life balance.
Other areas of awareness could include tackling personal factors like financial stress, personal resilience training or conflict resolution training.
Promoting a health and wellbeing culture by eradicating the damaging stigma and encouraging people to talk openly about mental health. Operating flexible working hours to allow balance with home lives or encouraging ‘fun’ in the workplace.
Promote an open and positive environment where employees feel supported to be themselves. This could involve things like setting up an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) or having a designated ‘mental health champion’ to help people feel more comfortable discussing any issues they may have.
Making it easy for employees to find the information and support they need. Let your staff know what support is available and signpost it. Include internal support such as Mental Health First Aiders, HR or Occupational Health. This could be through having an easily accessible policy or having a specific section on your website relating to employee wellbeing.
Having a helpline available is also a good way to provide support. There is also some fantastic external support available through Breathing Space, Mikeysline and the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH).
These 3 wellbeing initiatives can be adapted to fit any size of organisation and will go a long way in creating a mentally healthy workplace.
Why should employers invest in wellbeing and stress prevention?
Wellbeing at work is about much more than creating awareness and managing employee stress. Of course, employers have a corporate social responsibility to improve employee wellbeing but it’s also about optimising everyone in the organisation to be the best versions of themselves.
There’s a strong business case alone for making health and wellbeing a key organisational priority. It extends beyond physical and mental health, into happiness, motivation, job satisfaction and a better work-life balance. People spend a huge percentage of their lives at work, so working environments, have a significant role to play.
Taking action to improve the wellbeing of your employees can lead to:
Create a more productive, happier workforce and you’ll see the benefits in terms of increased outputs and creativity and improved team dynamics. Happier staff are also less likely to take sick days.
Less Turnover of Staff
Hold on to your valuable staff. Happier employees are more likely to be committed to an organisation, and less likely to leave for the promise of greener pastures elsewhere.
Good working environments that support mental health and wellbeing can help reduce staff turnover, saving you time and money on recruitment and training costs.
It’s also been documented that for every £1 invested in workplace wellbeing up to £8 can be saved in lost productivity.
It’s for these reasons that employers should consider tackling wellbeing and stress prevention as an investment rather than a cost. It’s not just fundamentally the right thing, good for staff and good for the community. It’s good for business.
Putting a wellbeing policy in place
A successful employee wellbeing program is one of the most powerful weapons organisations have to boost employee wellbeing, improve mental health and resilience, reduce the risk of absence, and engage staff to become more productive.
Wellbeing strategies can be applied to any workplace from startups to corporations. Well-designed solutions can help organisations support employees, and attract and retain staff by being seen as a forward-thinking organisation that invests in their employees, improving morale and reducing staff turnover.
At the very least an employer should carry out a stress risk assessment (the HSE has some good guidance on this – https://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/risk-assessment.htm). The gold standard you should aim for is to develop a wellbeing strategy for your organisation.
John Ruskin, at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, wrote, “in order that people may be happy in their work, these three things are needed: they must be fit for it, they must not do too much of it, and they must have a sense of success in it”.
Let’s get back to a time when management truly cared about their staff, more than they cared about profit margins. The past couple of decades has seen the focus being about getting more for less, about maximising profits, and more and more pressure piled on staff with excessive working hours, unrealistic targets and high-pressure deadlines.
It’s a fact of life that our working environments affect employee health and wellbeing. As we move back towards “normal” after the pandemic, organisations have a great opportunity to cast aside their customary practices and develop a more flexible mindset and improve workplace culture.
By becoming more trusting of their employees, reducing working hours, and offering more flexible working, for in house staff and remote workers, will make employees feel empowered and motivated rather than drained and frustrated.
Why not lead the way and make employee wellbeing a priority in your workplace environment to boost employee morale, improve employee happiness the overall health organisation?
If you’re an employer looking to create a better environment for your staff to thrive in or want to put a wellbeing policy in place, Fiona from More Than Motivation can help.
Fiona is a member of the International Stress Management Association and holds a CPCAB accredited Level 5 Diploma in Mental Health & Wellbeing Awareness.
To find out more about Fiona and her services, visit www.morethanmotivation.co.uk