Following the publication of Cascade’s Stress Report 2018, our HR Business Partner Emily Cryan was approached by Elite Franchise magazine to answer a number of questions about wellbeing in the workplace. Her responses appeared in the July issue, but if you missed the write up, you can read her thoughts in full, here…
Why should employers be mindful of their employees’ mental health?
There is so much to say on this subject.
Firstly, look at the UK population – mental health is a growing concern.
There are several striking statistics on the website of the charity Mind. For example: Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK experience a mental health problem each year, and whilst this hasn’t changed significantly in recent times, the narrative goes on to say that it is becoming harder for people to cope.
Our 2018 stress study also found that 4 in 5 people believe stress is now a ‘way of life’ – a concerning statistic that needs to be tackled. This is not a trend for employers alone to address. However, they do have an important role to play.
One very important strand of the argument is that it is ethically important for employers to uphold their duty of care to support both the physical and mental health of their staff. Not only is this inherently the right thing to do – it is also something that both customers and prospective employees will increasingly expect from organisations. A conscience matters.
Although we understand the importance of the ethical reasons for supporting our employees from a physical and mental health perspective, we are also aware that most companies need a fiscal reason for investing in mental wellbeing. So, if a business owner or senior management team (unfortunately) needs a more fiscal reason to prioritise employees’ mental health, the potential bottom line impact of poor mental wellness will surely catch their attention.
What are the risks involved if they don’t?
Stress is not necessarily the problem, but when that stress becomes chronic it risks jeopardising employees’ psychological state. It is therefore one of many root causes of mental ill health and a root cause that employers could help to manage.
If employers fail to adequately support colleagues when they are unwell due to stress, they risk fundamentally failing in their duty of care to provide a safe workspace for staff. Who is to say whether the individual will fully recover from their illness, and/or will want to continue working for the organisation when they hopefully do recover. There could even be the potential for a discrimination claim if the employer does not treat the individual(s) fairly because of their mental health symptoms.
Poor health of even one colleague can inadvertently put the health of wider staff at risk too, and as eluded to above, the impact could be complex and costly.
84% of HR/business managers in Cascade’s study believe stress affects absences within their workplace – 22% believe significantly; but only 57% of people know the cost of this absence. On a national level, the cost to the UK economy was reportedly £18bn last year. This financial drain could soon become unmanageable for businesses, plus team dynamics, customer service, reputation and wider health levels are also at risk.
What are the benefits if they do?
Firstly, employers can sleep at night, knowing they have taken active steps to protect the health of their staff.
The loyalty and morale of unwell employees will undoubtedly be enhanced if they feel supported, and – whether the organisation can help improve their mental health or not – this support will go some way to preventing any further health deterioration.
From a commercial perspective, output, productivity, team camaraderie, reputation, and customer service levels should all be better protected.
How should business leaders start if they want to take better care of their staff’s psychological health?
Business leaders could consider one of many wellbeing initiatives, but rather than relying on gimmicks or expensive stunts, progress can often be achieved by keeping things simple.
The crucial starting point is to assess employees’ current psychological health levels – it is always easier to improve upon something when it is being measured. And, rather than making assumptions, this health check will ensure the best possible next steps are taken. So, begin with a survey and/or one-to-ones.
Secondly, it is equally important to talk to employees about their health, particularly if they know why they are feeling as they are. The cause may not be something the employer can directly influence of course, and the causes may be multifaceted. However, talking is important. According to our stress study, 77% of people believe the support of an effective manager plays a significant part in their management of stress levels and mental wellbeing. In the same research exercise, ‘seeking colleague support’ was the second most popular way for individuals to mitigate the feeling of stress. Conversations about mental wellness therefore need to happen.
Thirdly, employees’ health needs to be monitored moving forwards, so that both improvements and any further causes for concern can be identified.
What can the care from employers look like?
Many organisations are employing dedicated mental health counsellors and/or first aiders, so that staff have a clear point of trusted contact when they begin to feel unwell. This is an important extension of the need to talk, outlined above.
Training – for counsellors and line managers – is also crucial. It is a very sad fact that a huge degree of stigma still exists surrounding mental ill health. Different stakeholders therefore need to be better aware of the symptoms, how to manage deteriorating wellness, how to identify signs of potential ill health, what conversations to have, plus their legal and ethical duty to support employees when they are unwell.
If individuals’ psychological health is being worsened due to one or more workplace factors, business leaders should then take targeted action. Workloads, colleague behaviour, bullying, management style, poor working conditions and difficulties achieving a work-life balance could all be having a detrimental impact. These are factors that business leaders can change.
Mindfulness sessions, workplace fitness competitions, breakout rooms and in-house nutrition experts are just some of the things business leaders are investing in to provide a more positive and holistic workplace experience for staff.
Advice should also be given to employees so they can take better steps to protect their own mental wellness too. This knowledge and empowerment is usually extremely appreciated.