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Why mental health should be a priority for businesses

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It’s estimated that at least one in seven people will experience a mental health problem at work and with mounting pressures in today’s current economic climate, this could set to increase (Mental health foundation: Mental health at work statistics).

With the current cost of living crisis, the rise of e-presenteeism and risk of burn out due to virtual working, and social isolation, it’s no surprise that cases of anxiety and depression are rising. A recent survey conducted by ONS assessed the association between depression and the current cost of living and found that rates of depression were unsurprisingly higher among those who struggled to afford rising housing costs and energy bills. In fact, “around 1 in 4 (27%) adults who reported difficulty in affording their rent or mortgage payments had moderate to severe depressive symptoms; this is around two times higher compared with those who reported that it was easy (15%)” (ONS: Cost of living and depression in adults). In addition to social and financial pressures, work strain has concerningly been cited as the most common cause of stress across the UK.

Research conducted by Champion Health highlighted that 79% of respondents in a Statista survey said they frequently felt work-related stress and 74% of people feel so stressed they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope (Champion Health: Stress statistics UK: 2023). Long working hours and the need to ‘always be present’, especially when working remotely, have largely contributed to poor mental health. Deloitte’s report found that 61% of people surveyed left their job because of poor mental health, with young people most likely to leave (Deloitte: Poor mental costs UK employers up to £56 billion a year).

The consequences of poor mental health can be severe, especially if left untreated. Not only will it affect physical health but also have an impact on relationships, cognitive ability and quality of life overall. There is also a financial impact for businesses, with unsupported cases resulting in high absenteeism and attrition. According to the Mental Health Foundation, “evidence suggests that 12.7% of all sickness absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions” and is estimated to cost an employer £1652 per employee, per year (Mental Health Foundation: Mental health at work statistics).

With this in mind how can employers mitigate this risk and support their employees’ mental wellbeing?

We spoke to Matt Green, Founder and CEO of IDEX Consulting to get his perspectives and to understand the steps IDEX is taking to support their people.

“We have a responsibility to make wellbeing a strategic priority and put measures in place to prevent employees from becoming overworked and overwhelmed in the first place. At IDEX we have an open forum where we encourage people to talk freely about their feelings and needs, so we can create a productive environment which sets people up for success. This, combined with support systems such as, the Employee Assistance Programme, Occupational Health services and our health providers who offer a number of wellbeing solutions, means we can provide the right level of support.

In addition to this, we’ve also just launched our new charity partner, Papyrus (Prevention of Young Suicide) dedicated to supporting positive mental health in young adults. We collectively decided on this as a business, to proactively help our local communities across the UK and I’m really looking forward to seeing what we’ll achieve.”

A study conducted by MIND, discovered that “56 of employers said they’d like to do more to improve staff wellbeing but don’t feel they have the right guidance” (MIND: Taking care of your staff’s mental health). We share some advice below.

Create a culture of communication and transparency

Encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available to ensure people feel comfortable talking about their needs, challenges and worries. Even if you think you have promoted support tools and help available, do it again. Qualtrics, data analysis research company, found that employees were 23% more likely to experience a decline in their mental health due to a lack of communication with their manager. The survey also found that nearly 40% of employees said that no one had asked if they were OK or happy at work (Harvard Business Review: 8 ways managers can support employees’ mental health). It’s also important to be transparent about business changes and updates to ensure people feel part of the strategy and understand how their work is contributing to wider success.

Proactively assess employee mental wellbeing

Many organisations partner with health companies to offer wellbeing tools, but research has found that many do not proactively assess their employees’ mental health on a regular basis. Self-assessment questionnaires and tools can help explore if further investigation is needed to promote healthy working habits and support individual needs. This is particularly important for those people who are reluctant to share how they’re feeling or seek treatment. By normalising the use of services businesses can reduce stigma and embed these practices into their culture. Tools include; mood assessment checkers, work-life balance questionnaires and online mental health check-ups.

Lead by example and model healthy behaviours  

It’s incredibly important for leaders and managers to make themselves vulnerable and share their own experiences. When team leaders are honest about their own mental health struggles, it makes them human and relatable, opening channels of communication for others to talk about their experiences. Research by Sage Publications showed that authentic leadership cultivates trust between leaders and employees and subsequently improves engagement and performance (SAGE Journals: Authentic leadership and positive psychological capital). It’s important for leaders to not just talk about mental health but to model the right behaviours, such as taking time out to exercise, having a lunch break and not working whilst on holiday.

Promote flexibility and inclusion

Everyone’s needs will be different and it’s important for managers to regularly check in with their teams to ensure people are equipped with the right working arrangements. Making sure people truly feel empowered to take time off for wellbeing needs, family responsibilities and personal commitments will increase productivity and reduce the risk of burn out. Being accommodating doesn’t have to mean lowering standards, it’s about creating an environment of trust and efficiency.

Invest in training

Line manager training can equip managers with the skills and tools to encourage open conversations and create an environment of understanding and support. It will not only help them identify triggers early on, but importantly reduce stress amongst team members who may be less likely to share how they’re feeling. There are a number of consultancies who offer face to face and online digital training, such as; MHFA England, Thrive4Life and Mental health at work.

Investing in employee wellbeing should be a priority for all businesses. Awareness, communication and training all play an integral part in destigmatising mental health and promoting a culture of understanding and support. For further support on wellbeing in the workplace you can access the below resources.