Wellbeing in the workplace is no longer something organisations can afford to take lightly. One-in-six British workers experiences depression, anxiety or stress in their lifetime, and, in England alone, 16 million sick days per year are attributed to mental ill-health, costing billions of pounds in lost working days and making it one of the leading causes of sickness absence.
There are increasing expectations on us all to work harder and for longer, and with the emergence of new technologies allowing us to work whenever and wherever we like, these numbers are set to rise.
An employer that supports mental wellbeing is one of the most important factors new hires among 18-34 year olds look for when considering job offers. A majority of millennials surveyed in a Deloitte study said they would prioritise a healthy work-life balance over other benefits, and would consider moving on if their wellbeing needs were not being met.
Organisations that are not investing in the wellbeing of their staff could be losing top talent, and studies have shown that a healthy workplace and sense of wellbeing increases productivity and innovation.
There are a number of steps organisations can take to facilitate and support good mental health in the workplace.
Watch out for early signs
Often, there are early warning signs that an employee is experiencing mental health issues. These can become apparent in a number of different ways, and could include psychological symptoms (such as mood changes, indecision or confusion), behavioural symptoms (including withdrawal from office life, irritability, and uncharacteristic errors) and even physical symptoms (such as fatigue and appetite changes). There may be comments from colleagues or clients about an employee acting out of character.
Paying attention to these early signs and taking steps to investigate any issues – even if it’s simply asking whether the employee is feeling OK – can help to identify a problem before it develops further.
There are a number of practical steps that organisations can take to create an effective strategy for promoting wellbeing, such as undertaking a risk assessment of potential work-related causes of mental health issues. Once potential risks have been identified, employers should consider developing personal mental health management plans for staff across all levels of the business, and ensure that the strategy has senior management buy-in. It’s also important to identify training needs for line managers to enable them to spot and deal with mental health issues.
Implementing initiatives to support staff who may be experiencing mental health challenges could involve small and inexpensive measures, such as return to work meetings, a flexible working hours policy and social activities to help staff achieve a better work-life balance, or more wide-ranging schemes, such as buddy systems and financial support for counselling. There’s something out there to fit every business and these initiatives really do work; telecoms giant BT reported a 30 per cent reduction in mental health sickness absence following the introduction of a training programme which provided employees with practical guidance on tackling problems such as anxiety, depression and stress. It’s also worth speaking to the experts; organisations such as Mind, a mental health charity, can provide guidance and advice on where to start.
The key for every businesses is to facilitate a culture where employees feel comfortable speaking up if they are struggling. As Mind emphasises: “open and supportive workplaces benefit everyone – employees, employers and the bottom line”.
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