Mental health matters.
According to the World Health Organisation, it is estimated that 950 million individuals worldwide suffer from a mental illness (1). Specifically, in England, 1 in 4 people struggle with their mental health at some point each year, and 1 in 6 experience common mental health disorders such as stress, anxiety, and depression each week (2). Similarly, in the US, 1 in 5 adults are said to be living with a mental health problem (3).
Mental health is often a taboo topic of conversation, particularly in the workplace, despite it being a facilitating factor for poor mental health. As an example, 12 billion working days are lost every year due to anxiety and depression alone (4). Whilst work-related mental conditions are not inevitable, they can be proactively prevented and managed. Various measures can be implemented to safeguard and enhance mental health in the workplace, providing support for individuals facing mental health challenges and ensuring their wellbeing, satisfaction, and active participation in the workforce.
This blog will explore the significance of mental health and offer practical tactics to foster a positive mental health and wellbeing experience in the workplace.
The Business Imperative of Mental Health
In order to build a positive work environment, it is essential that employee wellbeing is promoted and prioritised. A leader’s role is to encourage and implement practices that foster this environment, and as the voice of the business, they have the power to cultivate a culture where conversations around mental health are destigmatised and wholeheartedly embraced.
Beyond the moral obligation to care for employees, fostering an emotionally healthy and positive work environment can significantly impact an individual's performance and contribute to the organisation's success and sustainability, as mental health can directly impact a business's performance. Research suggests that a happy and healthy workforce can increase productivity and job satisfaction (5,6,7), decreasing turnover and absenteeism.
Identifying Mental Health Challenges
In a fast-paced work environment, with the pressures to perform and constantly be connected, employees can face stressors that can impact their mental health. Identifying and being aware of these common challenges is essential to create a positive, safe, and supportive workplace.
A few common challenges that can impact one's mental health might be long and inflexible working hours, overwhelming workload and pace, unsafe physical conditions, negative organisational culture, harassment or bullying, discrimination, conflict, or strained relationships with colleagues. These can all contribute to feelings of anxiety, stress, decreased job satisfaction, and can even increase the risk of burnout (8).
However, despite the prevalence of mental health challenges, many employees struggle in silence as they fear being stigmatised or dismissed. Additionally, it's crucial to recognise that mental health issues can stem from both work-related and personal factors outside the workplace. In promoting a supportive environment, it remains imperative to encourage open conversations to normalise and actively combat the stigma surrounding mental health, no matter the reason.
Practical Strategies for Prioritising Mental Health
Making mental health a top priority within an organisation requires a holistic approach considering various aspects of the employee's life. To foster an environment where wellbeing is not only recognised but celebrated, leaders may want to consider the following recommendations:
Flexible work arrangements: Adapting work environments for the unique needs of individuals. This could include hybrid or remote work strategies, flexible schedules, extra time to complete tasks, modified assignments to help manage or reduce stress or compressed working weeks. These strategies could be particularly helpful in supporting working parents and women returning to work after pregnancy (8). Additionally, they can allow employees to structure their work for optimised productivity and decreased risk of burnout (9). These benefits can attract a wide range of potential employees and top talent, increase retention of valued employees, and increase employee committee, morale and loyalty.
Mental health days: Supporting and promoting employee wellbeing and self-care by allowing employees to take time off without the stigma that is often attached to regular sick leave (10).
Encouraging work-life balance: Creating a working culture that effectively allows employees to manage their professional and personal responsibilities. This could include setting boundaries around working hours, encouraging breaks, and setting realistic goals (11). Additionally, balance could involve prioritising mindfulness, exercise, or tasks that ‘fill up your cup’. These strategies can improve company culture, sustainability, attraction, and retention of talent and mitigate burnout, presenteeism and absenteeism.
Clear and open communication channels: Establishing a supportive environment where employees feel comfortable talking about mental health. This could include anonymous reporting mechanisms, specified email addresses, regular check-ins, two-way communication, peer support programs for informal discussions, sharing experiences, and offering mutual support (11).
Accessible resources: Numerous resources can be provided to employees to ensure that the environment and operations are sufficient for a healthy workforce. This could include safe spaces, counselling services, designated communities, schemes for wellbeing checks, and many more. Headspace is a prime example of an organisation providing a service for organisations to implement to support their employee’s mental health (12). They provide meditation tools, sleeping tips, blogs on reducing stress and anxiety, and articles on increasing mindfulness.
While these practices can be beneficial, the primary practical approach for leaders is to establish a safe and supportive environment. This can cultivate a workplace where employees feel comfortable talking about their mental health, feel listened to, and witness tangible changes taking place. While implementing these strategies may be costly in the short term, they can boost employee and organisational performance in the long term.
Training and Education
Mental health training and education are becoming business-critical rather than optional. This training should be integrated throughout each level of an organisation, from low-level management to C-suite, to ensure that every team prioritises mental health and accommodates the above practical strategies. Building awareness and destigmatising mental health can be the first step in educating a workforce. As an example, TheHubEvents can be a helpful resource for businesses; it offers managers a comprehensive training programme to guarantee that mental health awareness is at the forefront of their operations (13).
A study found that 86% of employees believe that a work environment should support mental health, with 34% leaving a role within an organisation due to their mental health (14). Although training and education can add an additional expense to organisations, such as finding qualified trainers to deliver tailored programs or investing in resources, it will subsequently benefit the organisation as building this environment will result in a high ROI due to the inevitable decrease in absenteeism and resignations.
To conclude, mental health is a worldwide issue that can drastically impact employees, contributing to burnout, decreased job satisfaction, increased employee turnover, absenteeism and presenteeism. Subsequently, these can negatively impact an organisation's performance, growth, reputation, and success.
Leaders play a crucial role in prioritising and promoting mental health and their employees' wellbeing. Fostering a supportive and positive environment can help destigmatise the conversation and enhance topline performance and productivity. This can be done by implementing practical strategies, from flexible work arrangements to mental health initiatives. Additionally, an environment of support can be established through open communication channels and readily available resources such as greater training and education.
With this being said, prioritising mental health is not just a moral duty of care but a long-term strategic business imperative that can warrant a more engaged, resilient, and successful workforce.