Recently we have started to witness a critical shift in the way businesses are responding to mental health in the workplace, moving from a reactive approach to a more proactive framework. Whilst the negative effects brought forth by the recession appear to be easing, post-recession, businesses are facing a new set of challenges, as employers remain focused, and rightfully so, on how to build a business that is prepared for any potential pitfalls. In light of this, employees will likely experience undue pressures from factors including increased workloads and tighter deadlines, as businesses work to meet the demands of their clients and/or consumers.
The prevalence of mental health
By nature, stress and other mental health issues are not visible to the naked eye in the same way physical ailments are, which make them difficult to detect and quantify. For this reason, instances of poor mental health in the workplace can often go unnoticed or take longer to detect. Nonetheless, stress and other instances of mental health are still prevalent.
According to Health and Safety Executive (HSE), in 2014/15 there were 440, 000 cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety. Moreover, stress accounted for 35 percent of all work-related ill health and 43 percent of working days lost due to ill health. With this in mind, it has become vital for all businesses owners to become active advocates of employee wellbeing.
Building a holistic wellbeing strategy
Whilst stress can be a result of variables within the working environment, in order to adopt a holistic approach to wellbeing, employers should also take into account external factors that may cause poor mental health. This is likely to become more prevalent with the aging workforce, who will experience increased responsibilities including caring for children or other dependents.
The framework for a healthy work environment includes the implementation of wellbeing polices that include all aspects of managing people from communication and engagement to consultation. This should include ensuring that managers are fully trained in stress management, whilst being confident and competent in dealing with difficult conversations surrounding personal wellbeing.
Aside from the emotional issues employees’ experience, the financial constraints felt in recent years have had a huge impact on health and wellbeing. My colleagues at Health Assured have supported a large number of employers and their employees through financial worries, which if left unattended could contribute to mental stress, with those who are experiencing financial stress more likely to suffer from fatigue, heart conditions and other health-related issues.
Getting the balance right
The complexity of metal health issues means that any policies an organisation creates need to incorporate how the workplace is organised, the degree of autonomy employees have and the organisational structure. Whilst these factors may be interrelated, only when employers look at their overall impact can a business’s approach to wellbeing be optimised. Below are just some of the options employers can consider when looking to implement an effective holistic wellbeing strategy.
Assess your businesses values and principles
Workplace culture is one of the biggest factors that draws potential employees towards a company and keeps employees happy and engaged at work. For the longest time, mental health has had a stigma attached to it which has prevented many employees from coming forward due to the fear of being ridiculed by their colleagues.
Thankfully, this is starting to dissipate, however it is up to employers to challenge this stigma by creating open and honest dialogue regarding mental health, helping to build knowledge to support a healthier outlook with regards to stress and other forms of mental health. Employers should look to implement training programmes for their management and employees, teaching them to identify the signs of poor mental health and the procedures to follow to seek support for themselves and/or others.
Employer’s may also consider supporting or partnering with a local mental health charity, encouraging employees to engage with mental health experts who can educate them on the prevalence of the issue, what can cause it, and what action can be taken to prevent poor mental health from escalating.
Providing continuous support
Whilst building an open work environment with regards to mental health is a crucial step in developing an effective mental health strategy, suffering from poor mental health can be an extremely difficult and sensitive issue that some individuals may find hard to discuss with their colleagues.
With this in mind, providing an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), where employees have access to support 24 hours a day, can bring a much needed sense of relief to those suffering with mental health issues. An EAP enables employees suffering from poor mental health to seek confidential support and guidance from fully trained counsellors in a comfortable environment, providing piece of mind for the employee in question, whilst also reducing some of the pressure placed on management.
Facilitating personal growth
For a majority of employees, the workplace represents an environment whereby through mentoring, training and performance management, they can progress and grow on a personal and professional level.
One of the main factors relating to work-related stress is a lack of managerial support and meaningful tasks. It is important therefore that employers work alongside their employees from the very beginning to build a development plan, with strategic aims and objectives that the employee is encouraged to achieve. Performance reviews play a significant role, as they provide the opportunity to discuss where the employees’ strengths lie, whilst also looking at areas for improvement and where the employee would like to see their role go moving forwards.
Outside of performance reviews, employers should also implement regular catch-ups, which facilitate open communication, enabling employees to air any issues they may be facing, whilst also helping to establish a stronger working relationship between employer and employee based on mutual respect.
David Price is CEO for Health Assured: the UK and Ireland’s most trusted health and wellbeing network. He advises employers daily on how to encourage and develop a healthy workplace, whilst outlining best practice guidance on how to combat and control workplace stress. David also speaks regularly to the press and media on mental health issues with his commentary profiled on SKY News, BBC and a regular contributor to Financial Adviser from the Financial Times.
David’s career has always centred on the development and wellbeing of employees. Before joining Peninsula, David spent several years in the senior management team at a leading national training provider, which helped more than 78,000 UK businesses start up. He has also worked for the Department for Work and Pensions and is a long standing member of the UK Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA) and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).