2019 was the year that burnout was officially recognised by the WHO as an occupational phenomenon, and the words self-care were never far from anyone’s lips.
People today are more clued up than ever about mental health, but can the same be said of employers? We look at the high cost of ignoring employee mental health and how you can improve your business practices around it.
People tend to think of poor mental health as a personal issue but a survey by Gallup found that the top 5 reasons for burnout were:
- Unfair treatment at work
- Heavy workloads
- Lack of role clarity
- Lack of communication and support from their manager
- Unreasonable time pressure
Employers have a duty of care to their staff to ensure that good mental health hygiene is part and parcel of their working life. In fact, choosing to ignore this problem results in immense costs for businesses every year.
The 2017 Government commissioned study, ‘Thriving at Work’, found that the annual cost of poor mental health to employers was between £33 billion and £42 billion. They also found that about 300,000 people with a long-term mental health condition leave work every year, roughly the equivalent of the entire population of Newcastle.
The human cost of this problem is even more frightening as the suicide rate for some professions (nursing/medicine/teaching) can be as much as 40% higher than the general population for men and 130% higher for women.
It’s not all bad news for bosses, however, as there are some fairly straightforward ways that employers can take more responsibility and work towards improving workplace conditions.
Workplace wellbeing programmes can act as a preventative measure and have been found to reduce stress, anxiety and mild-to-moderate depression. It has even been estimated that these programmes can generate a return on investment of up to 800% (£9 for every £1 invested).
The Thriving at Work study recommends 6 mental health core standards that should be a requirement for any workplace. They are:
- Produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan
- Develop mental health awareness among employees
- Encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling
- Provide employees with good working conditions
- Promote effective people management
- Routinely monitor employee health and wellbeing
Benefits of Employer Supported Volunteering
The Mental Health Foundation has found that ‘doing good does you good’. Their study shows that altruism can have positive effects on a person’s mental health. It creates a sense of belonging, helps put things in perspective, and can promote physiological changes in the brain linked with happiness.
While the benefits of volunteering for mental health are well-documented, these studies mainly focus on the benefits for students, retired people, or those who are unemployed. So how does employer supported volunteering impact mental health?
NCVO have found that volunteers who have taken part in corporate volunteering report feeling that ‘they have made an impact and are valued for it’ and were ‘likely to continue volunteering with the group, club or organisation in the next 12 months’.
Overall satisfaction levels are very high with around 9 in 10 volunteers who took part through a work scheme reporting that they were satisfied with their experience. These types of schemes have clear benefits for both the company and the happiness of employees. Why not consider implementing this as part of your employee engagement?
Where to Start?
If your organisation needs a mental health awareness shake-up, there are some easy first steps to success.
1. Conduct an emotional wellbeing audit
Firstly, it is a good idea to try and get a grasp of what the emotional wellbeing of your employees currently looks like. Use a tool like SurveyMonkey to send out an office-wide survey with some carefully considered questions to better understand where you are starting from.
2. Implement a mental health at work plan
Creating a mental health at work plan, which is easily accessible to all employees and included in your employee handbook, is a great next step towards a more emotionally literate workplace. It should cover topics such as: what support is available for staff experiencing poor mental health, signposts to relevant sources of information – both internal and external, and a reference to the Equality Act 2010 which acknowledges that mental health may be classified as a disability.
3. Educate your team
It might also be worth investing in a Mental Health First Aid course in order to better educate your staff about how to recognise signs of poor mental health and what to do about it.
4. Invest in your workplace culture
Consider your employee benefits. Is access to mental health services something that is included in your healthcare plan? Is flexitime something you would consider offering? You might want to introduce initiatives such as employee supported volunteering programs which can improve workplace morale and have a positive impact on your employees’ health and wellbeing.
The financial and human cost of poor employee mental health is just too high to ignore. And in 2020, a refusal to invest in your employees’ emotional wellbeing is more than just a bad business decision, it is negligent.
What steps will your organisation take to improve employee mental health this year?
Written by Betty Henderson