In this article from The Structural Engineer (May 2021) Sally Desborough explains why mental health was a hot topic during the Covid-19 pandemic and why it is so important that workplaces make mental health a priority.
The change and uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has shifted how we think, feel and behave. While many proactively look after their mental health to prevent an issue from arising, there is no doubt that some people do become unwell and require further support.
One in three employees say they have suffered from severe stress, anxiety or depression in the past two years, according to a 2019 report.
Since this piece of research was completed, we have gone through a major global event resulting in an increase in mental health issues in society. When combined with the disruption this has caused to critical mental health services in at least 120 countries around the globe, it isn't any wonder that organisations are looking to be more proactive in supporting the mental wellbeing of their employees.
Mental health problems in the UK workforce cost employers an estimated £45bn a year, which amounts to around £1670 for every employee.
Are workplaces doing enough to fulfil their duty of care to employees?
Only 30% of workers believe their employer's wellbeing initiatives meet their needs, with just one in four saying their employer provides them with good tools and resources to help them manage their health.
The fear and stigma around mental health conversations, especially in the workplace, are so much that, quite often, such conversations are avoided all together. This avoidance can have long-lasting consequences for employees and businesses.
What can businesses do to support the mental health of their employees?
Supporting employee needs can feel like a bit of a minefield; however, action taken does not need to be complicated. The following top tips provide a mix of practical steps and longer-term aims, to promote a happier and healthier workforce.
1. Lead by example
So often, wellbeing initiatives are led by human resources (HR) teams. However, mental health is everyone's responsibility – individuals, managers and senior leaders. HR can help to facilitate, but this should be a boardroom priority, not just an HR priority.
Business leaders need to drive the mental health agenda from the top, by communicating and sending clear messaging to staff that their mental health matters just as much as their physical health, and that being open about any mental health issues will lead to support. This can be reinforced by establishing clear policies, championing mental health campaigns, establishing wellbeing advocates in the workplace, and encouraging all staff to take breaks and to work healthy hours.
If leaders aren’t seen to be setting an example with regard to healthy behaviours, then this is likely to filter through the organisation. If, as a leader, you are concerned about the mental health of your workforce, it is helpful to be a role model and encourage healthy behaviours, like taking full lunch breaks, taking annual leave and working sensible hours. If you do this, others are more likely to do it.
2. Normalise mental health conversations
Encourage open conversations about mental health as part of regular one-to-one line manager conversations. Give people permission to talk about home as well as work. Be curious about what might be causing someone stress and explore with them what they think might help them. If you are aware that an employee lives alone and is feeling isolated, is there something more that can be done to support that individual through regular communication? Ask people what it is they need. It is important for line managers to feel empowered and confident to have mental health conversations so a training intervention may be required to support this.
About the author: Sally Desborough
Sally has a background in HR and her move into the mental health and wellbeing space started in 2017. She is the Founder and Director of Your Wellbeing Hub, a training provider specialising in mental health