This week is National Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK and this year’s theme focuses on tackling stress. Here we take a look at how employers can encourage good mental health in their organisation to better support staff and retain their best people.
While attitudes towards employee health and wellbeing have improved significantly in recent years, there is still a lack of understanding and support for mental health issues in the modern workplace. So much so, that a recent study by Business in the Community (BITC) found that 15% of employees who chose to divulge a mental health issue faced dismissal, disciplinary action or demotion.
In the BITC study, 77% of employees said they have experienced symptoms of poor mental health, while 62% of employees attributed their symptoms to work. Yet only 8% of UK organisations have a standalone wellbeing programme to support mental health issues. By taking care of employees’ wellbeing, an organisation can also improve its business health: better mental health support in the workplace can save UK businesses up to £8 billion per year, according to the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health.
How can a workplace wellbeing programme boost business?
While an employee health and wellbeing programme is centred on individually supporting your staff, it can positively impact the business as a whole.
The Mental Health Foundation found that 12.7% of sick days taken in the UK could be attributed to mental health conditions. It also found that significant cost savings could be made by implementing intervention processes, such as an employee wellbeing programme.
Effectively supporting and promoting employees’ health and wellbeing in the workplace creates a healthy workforce. This means optimum efficiency, increased productivity and reduced absenteeism, as well as decreased employee turnover.
How does a wellbeing programme impact your ability to attract and retain staff?
Having an effective workplace wellness programme is a huge positive for professionals looking for new opportunities. Our study of hiring managers and professionals across Australia and New Zealand found that an organisation’s workplace wellness policy was important to 87% of professionals. Actively promoting a wellness programme was also important to professionals – 64% said they would be more likely to apply for a role if the hiring organisation promoted its workplace wellness program in the job advertisement.
Louise Campbell, Managing Director - Ireland, Robert Walters, says:
“More and more we are finding that top candidates are really looking for an employer that can offer them something more – that extra 10% that other organisations won’t. For these candidates, an organisation that is committed to health and wellbeing and has a structured workplace wellness programme in place will always be attractive. So if you’re in the market for top candidates, ensure your workplace wellness program is promoted as much as possible during the recruitment process.”
Top tips for implementing a health and wellbeing programme
Identify employees most at risk of mental health symptoms
Age and gender both have an impact on the likelihood of an employee suffering poor mental health. Women generally feel more comfortable talking about their health with colleagues, and as line managers to their employees.
In terms of age, younger employees suffer more from poor mental health and struggle with the confidence to communicate this in the workplace. Keeping this mind when implementing an employee health and wellbeing programme means you’ll be able to focus on the people that need the most support. Tailor your organisation’s initiatives to help improve communication and build trust.
Open the lines of mental health communication
Nurturing a culture of transparency and support for health and wellbeing issues is the first step to combatting the negative associations of mental health problems in the workplace.
BITC’s Mental Health at Work Report found that 35% of employees didn’t ask for support the last time they suffered a mental health issue. Similarly, 86% of employees would be wary of approaching a colleague who they were concerned might be experiencing mental health problems.
This culture of silence may arise from fear of the consequences of speaking out: the report found that 9% of employees who had mental health symptoms experienced disciplinary action – including dismissal.
Creating a work environment where employees feel safe to be open about their health and wellbeing – without fear of disciplinary action – is important to build trust between your business and staff. As well as boosting morale, this positively impacts productivity.
Training and managerial support
Your employees will not feel comfortable discussing mental health problems overnight, or immediately after the introduction of a health and wellbeing initiative, so you must work proactively to support your staff.
Although 76% of line managers include employee wellbeing under their professional responsibilities, only 22% have had some form of training. They may be unsure of how to talk to employees, and what to do if an employee approaches them about mental health problems.
Basic training, as well as instruction in how to roll out a business-wide wellbeing programme should be provided to all senior staff. Creating an employee group that is passionate about health and wellbeing will give staff at all levels the chance to be involved with offering suggestions, implementing initiatives, and providing feedback.
Take a proactive approach
Having a company wellness programme and managing it effectively are two very different things, and the costs of mismanaging health and wellbeing issues can be huge. To be successful, you must ensure that health and wellbeing initiatives are regularly advertised internally, readily available and running smoothly.
While an overarching programme is great for inclusivity, it’s also important to keep sight of the individual. As well as meeting employees’ general health and wellbeing needs, regular one-to-one meetings will enable line mangers to stay in touch with each individual and offer tailored support through your organisation’s health and wellbeing initiatives.