In the past month, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince Harry have joined forces to tackle the stigma around mental health by spearheading the ‘Heads Together’ campaign.
A report from the CIPD, showed that the number of people that have experienced mental well being problems at work has grown from a quarter to a third over the last five years. The charity Mind has also found that issues such as stress are the number one cause of workplace absence.
With the amount of time people spend at work, employers are in a unique position to put strategies in place to help employees with well being issues. How many are doing this effectively and what support are they offering?
Growth in mental health strategies
In February, we published our second annual wellbeing research report in association with Reward & Employee Benefits Association ‘Employee Wellbeing Research 2017: The evolution of workplace wellbeing in the UK,’ which uncovered several trends about mental health.
The research found that 45 per cent of companies have a clearly-defined wellbeing strategy in place, compared to less than a third in 2016 – and 82 per cent of these strategies now include mental health, with a further 15 per cent of employers saying they plan to add initiatives to their strategy in 2017.
More than half of employers said that mental health support is one of the most effective wellbeing initiatives for their business, together with employee assistance programmes and on-site medical support.
Two of the fastest growing areas of wellbeing this year are financial education or guidance and sleep management, both of which can impact mental well being.
More than a quarter of companies plan to add financial education or guidance to their wellness strategy over the next 12 months, and almost half will over the next few years, as employers recognise the stress that personal financial concerns can cause employees.
The number of companies including sleep in their wellbeing strategy is also set to double from 42 per cent to 88 per cent this year. Having a poor night’s sleep not only affects an employee’s performance, it can also increase their stress levels.
Companies can help by addressing issues such as stress through focused workshops and promote awareness of mental health issues through campaigns and good communications, but should also check they have good processes in place to promote employee wellbeing.
Do they have a good working hour culture? Are they encouraging people to have a decent work/life balance through initiatives such as flexible working? Are they encouraging people to take their lunch breaks or take time to exercise?
So, what are companies doing?
Our research found that 39 per cent of respondents plan to introduce mindfulness sessions over the next few years as a way of addressing specific concerns about the mental well being of employees such as “heavy workloads”, “burn out” and “lack of resilience”.
Many are also increasing the training of line managers so they can better support employees with wellbeing.
If they are well trained, line managers are ideally placed to spot the early warning signs of stress, anxiety and depression in their employees. They will be the first to notice if people change their behaviour or appearance, if they appear stressed or anxious or are taking more time off work sick.
With good training, they will be able to initiate conversations and signpost support services that are available for employees to get them on the road to recovery and provide them with the support they need.
It’s important that employers start to proactively manage the mental health of their staff to tackle issues before they escalate. A happy and healthy workforce is likely to be a more productive and engaged workforce, so looking after employee wellbeing, both mentally and physically is a win-win for everyone.
Beate O’ Neil, Head of Wellbeing at Punter Southall Health & Protection