How to improve mental health awareness in the workplace
There’s no time like the present for businesses to start addressing workplace well-being – it is becoming one of the biggest challenges facing employers today. Many organisations are recognizing that employee mental health and well-being are crucial for productivity and engagement and are taking steps to address this.
This challenge has been brought to the forefront by the pandemic, which led to increased stress and anxiety for many workers due to job insecurity, health concerns, and social isolation. Employers are increasingly focusing on creating environments that promote well-being, including implementing mental health support, promoting work-life balance, and providing employees with the resources they need to manage their mental health effectively.
How big is the problem?
Let’s start by looking at the numbers. Stress, anxiety and depression are major causes of sickness absence in the UK, and as a result, they cost employers a significant amount of money. In fact, according to the Mental Health Foundation, the cost of mental health problems to UK employers is estimated to be around £34.9 billion each year. This figure includes costs associated with absenteeism, , and staff turnover. It’s clear that supporting employees’ mental health is not only important for their well-being, but it can also have a significant impact on the bottom line of businesses.
Research by Mind.org has shown that 21% of people have called in sick to avoid stress at work, whilst 14% of those surveyed said that they had resigned (and 42% had considered resigning) due to workplace stress.
How does this impact individuals and businesses?
Mental health is defined by the World Health Organization as a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community. Clearly, poor mental health has serious implications for the individual, but what knock-on effects does this have for businesses?
Presenteeism (being at work but not fully productive)
Increased employee turnover
Lack of career progression for employees
How can you ensure that your employees feel supported?
There are a few strategies you can put in place, some to prevent issues from arising and others to help deal with them if they arise.
Promote overall mental and physical wellbeing
Gym memberships, yoga classes, cycle-to-work schemes – anything you can do to incentivise physical health. Simply encouraging your employees to take regular breaks and get up and move around throughout the day can be valuable.
Provide healthy food options: Consider offering healthy snack options in the office or organising healthy lunch options during meetings.
Encouraging work-life balance through flexible working and not creating a culture where employees feel obligated to work late, or answer emails at all hours of the day.
Let employees feel supported and appreciated in their roles – be open and accepting about doctors’ appointments, family commitments, and so on. Encourage positive interactions between team members and create a culture of open communication.
Promote general mental health awareness. Provide information on mental health topics, such as stress management and mindfulness. You could also consider offering mental health support resources and training for managers and employees (as discussed below).
Assess your employees’ workloads regularly
Take the time to assess employees’ individual workloads, just as you would their performance. Managers.co.uk suggest two questions you should constantly be asking yourself: “Is there an individual who is always the last one in the office?” and “Are you and your team working too many hours?”
Look out for signs of poor mental wellbeing
According to bupa.co.uk, here are some of the possible early signs of poor mental health:
Being easily distracted
Finding it hard to make decisions
Feeling less interested in day-to-day activities
Feeling overwhelmed by things
Tiredness and lack of energy
Sleeping more or less
Talking less and avoiding social activities
Talking more or talking very fast, jumping between topics and ideas
Finding it difficult to control your emotions
Irritability and short temper
Train individuals in your workplace on mental health issues
This could involve formal training for all managers to be more aware of and equipped to deal with mental health issues, or identifying a group of mental health advocates – individuals in your workplace who are passionate about mental health and well-being. Work to provide them with comprehensive, covering topics such as ways to recognise signs of poor mental health, supporting employees in crisis, and accessing mental health resources.
Cultivate a culture of openness
Foster an open and supportive culture where people experiencing mental health issues feel like they can ask for help. Encourage your advocates to create a culture of open communication and support – this could include organising mental health awareness campaigns and hosting informal group meetings to discuss mental health issues. It can also involve senior staff taking the lead and being open about their own mental health, showing that it’s not a sign of weakness.