Mental Health in the workplace – why does it matter and what can we do?


World Mental Health day this month marked a great step forward for the UK as Theresa May appointed a Minister for Suicide Prevention – thought to be a world’s first. Just one week earlier, I was fortunate to attend Employee Benefits Live 2018 – Europe’s largest annual dedicated reward and benefits event for the HR and reward industry, and it’s safe to say that workplace mental health was high on everyone’s agenda. With over 4,500 people taking their own lives in England each year, employers’ role in providing adequate and supportive mental health services for their employees was certainly a hot topic.


But why does mental health matter within the workplace?


Employers have a duty of care to ensure health, safety and wellbeing within the workplace. Although we would all hope that our employers would want to make sure their workforce was happy and healthy regardless, there are additional benefits for businesses who take mental health seriously.

Richard Branson once said:

“Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the client.”

Mental health issues impact the way people think, make decisions, interact with others and manage stress – all features of everyday working life. Employees thinking irrationally or unclearly, making either rash or very delayed decisions, or interacting with others in a fraught or sharp manner are likely features of someone with negative mental health. This in turn impacts productivity as employees are unlikely to perform to their greatest potential, have a higher frequency of absence from work* and are more likely to change jobs frequently thus increasing staff turnover.


Therefore, organisations are only as strong as their people and the benefits of investing in mental health and wellbeing within the workplace are unquestionable.


Okay, so what can we do?!


Cayla Kitayama – international benefits manager at Google across Europe Middle East and Africa was the opening keynote speaker at Employee Benefits Live 2018. She highlighted in her session entitled – ‘Putting health and wellbeing at the heart of your benefits strategy’, three important points for businesses to consider:


Know your people


Whether you are an employer or an employee, the importance knowing your people and knowing your surroundings cannot be underestimated. Being able to spot changes in your colleagues’ behaviour is often the first step that leads to the simple, but potentially lifesaving, action of asking someone if they are okay.  Changes in behaviour can manifest in a variety of ways:

  • Manic/irritable behaviour

  • Lack of interest and motivation

  • Decline in quality of work

  • Constant tiredness

  • Unusual hours of work

  • Increase in absence

and so on…


Being aware and acting on your observations by either asking someone how they are yourself or passing on your concerns to HR or their line manager is the first step needed to a meaningful conversation.


De-stigmatise


Creating a culture where mental health is not a taboo subject is absolutely imperative within the workplace. Employees need to feel that they can talk openly and in confidence to their line manager and that work will support them in any way needed to help them on their road to recovery. Cayla suggested that encouraging employees to tell their stories at work helps to de-stigmatise mental health issues within the workplace. Also creating a culture where employees can take breaks and work more flexibly if needed can help both comfort and empower employees in times of need.


Make sure people know how to get help


It goes without saying that making sure employees know what resources they have access to and how to access them if needed is key to improving workplace wellbeing. Providing the most comprehensive mental health resources to your workforce will be completely redundant if people don’t know a) that these services exist b) how to access them. Heightening awareness can come in a variety of forms and is often very easy to do e.g. through company newsletter updates or during employee inductions.


Finally, it is worth highlighting that improving mental health services does not have to be bank breaking – small-medium sized companies can still do their part to support their workforce. Establishing clear lines of communication, peer support networks, solid relationships with HR and line managers and being flexible and adaptive to your employees’ needs are all free and easy steps towards creating an open, happy and healthy workplace.


*62% of UK employees have taken a day off work in the last year as a result of mental health issues (Wildgoose survey of 250 UK businesses

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