8 Tips to make mental health in the workplace a priority
Conversations about mental health in the workplace have been happening on a larger scale in the last decade and are expected to continue to grow. With around 15% of people experiencing mental health problems in the workplace and approximately 17 million working days lost to depression and anxiety every year in the UK, making mental health a priority in the workplace has never been more relevant. In this blog we’ll explore how you can approach mental health in the workplace, any recommendations, and what benefits you might expect.
Why focus on mental health in the workplace?
While taking time off work for physical health reasons is common and considered acceptable more often than doing so for mental health, it is more common, on average, for employees to take time off to recover from mental illness than it is from anything else. Research suggests almost 28% of all sickness absences in the UK are due to mental health conditions.
Evidence suggests improving support for mental health in the workplace can save businesses up to £8 billion annually. Annual costs to employees nationwide are approximately £28 billion for presenteeism, £22 billion for staff turnover, and £6 billion for absenteeism. These costs are currently rising, having increased by 25% from 2019 to 2022. Despite the fact that for every £1 spent on mental health employers can get back up to £5.30 in reduced absences and loss of productivity, 70% of managers believe there are barriers that limit their employees’ access to support.
Mental health and issues with it have a direct impact on productivity, whether that be in the workplace or outside of it. This can be due to a number of reasons:
- Concentration is commonly affected by mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, burnout, and others. This can result in reduction in multitasking abilities and stamina.
- Many mental health issues have a detrimental effect on the quality of sleep. This can lead to a drop in concentration and alertness, decrease in critical thinking and cognitive abilities, and a weakened immune system.
- Presenteeism is a big issue in all sectors, with 47% of employees displaying the behaviour of being present at work without being productive due to poor mental health.
Research shows that a productivity loss reduction of $0.9-1.3bn per annum is linked to good mental health in the total population. It suggests that productivity loss will be lowest when mental wellbeing is highest.
In the UK, 79% of the working population report they have recently experienced a burnout, with the number rising to 82% in the tech industry. With mental health in the workplace already being poor across all ages and sectors, burnout leads to even worse mental and emotional states, an increase in staff turnover and productivity loss, and a decrease in happiness and presence at work.
So, what can you do?
1. Start a conversation
One of the biggest obstacles to accessing support for mental health in the workplace is stigma and shame surrounding the topic, so opening lines of communication is among the most important steps you can take to promote wellbeing. Make sure you and/or the managers take the time to check in with your teams and are available if an employee needs to talk. This will give them the opportunity to open up if they are feeling overwhelmed with their work, if something is happening at home that is affecting them at work, or if there is something in the workplace that hinders their work.
It is also beneficial to ask your employees what kind of support they believe they would benefit from the most, and if current solutions are being utilised.
Try to talk about yourself openly as well, as leading by example often works best. Don’t feel obligated to express every concern on your mind, but sharing when you’ve had a tough day can show your employees that it’s a safe space.
2. Nominate mental health officers or teams
Hiring or nominating people to be in charge of mental health in your company can take some responsibilities and tasks off your shoulders and ensure there is someone whose attention is focused on employee wellbeing. This person can be the one organising events, such as webinars, trainings, and office outings, analysing the policies and support available, their effectiveness, and whether they should be changed.
3. Encourage time off
After the pandemic, many people are finding it harder to switch off from work when remote access is available, resulting in a worsening work/life balance. Over 25% of employees report struggling with switching off from work and relaxing in their free time. It is especially prominent in smaller companies where the teams are often more close-knit and there are fewer people that have the capacity to pick up someone else’s tasks if they are off sick, taking a mental health day, or on holiday. This means over 60% of people working in smaller businesses (up to 100 employees) feel guilty about using their annual leave, and 30% actually use less than normal. Spending most of the time thinking about work or working has a detrimental effect on stress levels, sleep schedules, and happiness, thus often leading to worse mental health in the workplace ans outside of it.
4. Offer flexibility
Covid has left many with lasting physical issues, but it has also had a huge impact on everyone’s mental health, and many are still struggling. Many have got used to remote working and have built routines around it, disturbing which could have a negative impact on their wellbeing. Others have experienced isolation and are now having trouble readjusting, whether through trying to socialise as much as possible or finding it difficult to be around other people for extended periods of time. Other aspects of our lives such as childcare have also undergone a number of changes.
Offering flexibility in hybrid or remote working, flexible working hours, regular breaks, and others can offer your employees the support they need to adjust better to their working environment and maintain their lives at the level where their wellbeing is best.
Stress in the workplace seems to come from every possible direction: many and sometimes conflicting tasks, working conditions, (perceived) little to no control, (perceived) lack of support, conflicts and lack of trust, change, especially when unexpected, and (perceived) lack of skills. Pausing and taking time to breathe and distract oneself can seem counterintuitive but practicing mindfulness has been shown to have plenty of benefits. It can improve communication and reduce conflict, improve concentration, and help us ground ourselves.
You can offer mindfulness training, add access to Headspace or your own sessions through a wellbeing app, provide a space for relaxation such as a break room, and allow earphones in the workplace where possible as music and apps such as Headspace can be utilised throughout the working day.
6. Promote learning and development
Over 35% of current employees report feeling stagnant in their jobs. This can come from a lack of career growth and opportunities, fear or process of losing skills, no learning or opportunities thereof.
Feeling of stagnation can result in withdrawal and productivity loss, as well as a rise in sickness absence, and it can have a negative impact on the employee’s self-esteem and motivation, wellbeing, and mental health.
You can combat this by providing training and learning opportunities within your organisation. From mental health first aid courses to all who want to participate to individual education, these can help keep your employees engaged and confident and can help your business grow. Individual courses can be discussed on a case-by-case basis – let your employees know that if they find a course, they feel might benefit them and make them better in their current position, that you would be happy to consider helping them get a place and giving them time off to complete it if appropriate.
7. Provide training and support
Poor mental health can be difficult to approach on your own, and many don’t have the knowledge to deal with the challenges they face. Offering mental health training courses and webinars can encourage your employees to talk about the challenges they’re facing, learn more about healthy coping mechanisms and how to get started, and show them they’re not alone in their struggles. Companies that provide these training opportunities have been shown to have improved productivity and wellbeing, less sickness absences, and better communication.
Sometimes, however, managing on your own or with the help of friends or colleagues might not be enough. In some situations, your employees might need help from a professional, which is why offering counselling sessions through occupational health is another important factor to consider. Wellbeing apps can also serve as sources of help, providing helpful videos, articles, and links, access to speak to a professional, and automated care pathways that can recommend material based on specific needs.
8. Review your policies and offers
Staff come and go, their needs change, new software and training gets developed, and policies become outdated. To make sure you are doing the best you can for your employees, it is necessary to introduce assessment and revision meetings for your health and wellbeing offers and policies. They should focus on what you have now and whether it is being utilised, if there is anything new and better – more cost-effective, more suited to your business needs – on the market, and if the levels of wellbeing in your company are up to your standards and in line with your goals.
You can use company-wide questionnaires sent through corporate email or wellbeing app to gauge how well your current policy is working, provide the opportunity for your employees to submit anonymous requests and complaints, and use the analytics from ACPs and your wellbeing app to get a comprehensive picture of the current situation and which areas you might want to focus on.
Mental health in the workplace is a vast and complicated topic to cover, but making an effort to support your employees is worth it – productivity, business, and people-wise. To learn more about mental health in the workplace, visit our services pages or book a consultation with one of our specialists below. Let us know if you have any questions!