Mental and physical health is intrinsically linked and should be treated as such. However, it is common for people to not treat mental health issues as seriously as they do physical health concerns. There is often a feeling that mental health problems are something to be ashamed of, and therefore people are not confident to speak up and ask for help. It is important for an employer to be aware of the effects that work can have on the mental health of their employees, and equally how the mental health of their employees can have an effect on their productivity.
There are many reasons for an employer to be sensitive to the need for mental health and wellness in the workplace, financially speaking the figures are staggering, with business’ seeing a massive £8 Billion saving when companies provide better mental health support in the workplace (and that is in the UK alone). Let’s explore how mental health and wellness can impact the workforce in more detail, and how to overcome the issues that may present themselves.
Presenteeism & Absenteeism
To put it in perspective, productivity is adversely affected by both presenteeism (an employee being present when ill, for example having gone through a grievance or feeling anxious about their future career prospects during something such as the Covid-19 period) and also absenteeism, with almost 13% of sick days being due to mental health issues. It is estimated that for a small investment of around £80 per employee, a company can save up to £700, which is a: £347,722 saving for a team of 500 employees.
Over the past few decades, workplaces have often tried to drive down absenteeism as it has been seen as an indicator of poor performance. However, this often in turn increases presenteeism – something which can’t be measured as easily. In fact, in 2014 the average lost productivity days due to poor mental health in workplaces across the country was 24 days; by 2018 this had risen to 38 days. We are now actually witnessing a growing crisis within mental health which is being spoken about heavily within the news, and workplaces need to find ways to be able to track not just absenteeism, but presenteeism, and in turn productivity as well.
Employees spend a lot of their life hours in the workplace (an estimated 35%); therefore the working environment must be conducive to a healthy balanced lifestyle. This means space should be clean, tidy, well lit, well ventilated and quiet enough for the employees to focus on their work effectively. In addition, there should be break-out areas where the employees can relax effectively when not working.
A lot of companies will have employee benefits schemes with areas such as E.A.P. (Employee Assistance Programmes) programmes in, which can be a fantastic tool. But it is important to make sure employees are supported across their mental, physical and financial wellbeing (as these all feed into mental health). Companies also need to be sure that these benefits are accessible, and employees understand what they are for, how it can benefit them, and how to access them. Spending some time on this can really help drive productivity of the workforce.
Proactive and interventional support in the workplace has immense, far-reaching benefits for both the employee and employer. There are many cases whereby the mental health of employees can be overlooked, especially if the employer cannot see the signs of distress. This is a terrible oversight for many reasons, not least for the productivity of the workforce. Therefore wellness initiatives are a great investment for the retention and wellbeing of the workforce.
Again, this can fall back to the employee benefit schemes on offer, but there is also an element here of making sure the right support structures are in place in your organisation internally. Make sure there is a HR function where employees feel they can turn to in case of an issue. You need to make sure that these individuals who are giving support are trained in mental health awareness and can look to spot certain indiciators.
Another area, may be to access the MHFA program which can train individuals in mentla health support who are not necessarily in the HR function. Some workplaces even go to the extent of giving different colour lanyards to individuals trained in MHFA, so another employee can quickly see who they could talk to if they are having a problem.
It is also important to say at this point though, that it is important to make sure that you are not just putting reactive measures in place and allowing the problem to grow in the first place. Lumien can help you track the wellbeing of your workforce, and put benefits in place early on which stop employees reaching a crisis point in the first place.
Stress in the workplace
Stress in the workplace can either come directly from the workplace or from outside situations. It is estimated that 550 million work hours are lost each year due to the stress of the job. Outside situations may also be causing stress, and impacting performance, this could be personal issues affecting employees that are influencing how well they are doing. Because of the overwhelming impact of stress on the employees, it is advisable for an employer to have a robust mental and physical wellness initiative in place.
Although employees need an element of stress in their day to day lives, it is important that this doesn’t go to far. Therefore, this is an area which needs to be constantly measured in the workplace, particularly amongst different teams, to spot where potential issues may occur in advance.
Anxiety is another area to look out for when looking in to mental health in the workplace. An easy way to think about anxiety is to see it as concern about the future, and concern about the uncertainties that come with that. For example, during the Covid-19 period, there was a high level of concern around future job security, which could result in increasing anxiety levels.
A first step in preventing anxiety is to make sure communication is as clear as possible. However, it is also important to make sure you have the right support structures in place to deal with employees who struggle with this.
Depression can be a problem which many of us encounter in our lifetimes, affected at different levels and across different time periods. When it comes to mental health in the workplace, it’s important that there are support structures people can access if this problem occurs (see section on support). Depression can be particularly noticeable when it comes to absenteeism and presenteeism rates. If you are driving down absenteeism rates by forcing individuals with depression to attend work, this could cause a large rise in presenteeism, and a large drop in productivity. It’s important to understand what is happening across your workplace, and understand the intricacies and interactions these figures and issues have.
A Positive Culture
A positive work culture creates an effective workforce. It is important to foster a culture of openness so that employees know where to turn to, if and when they experience some sort of trauma in their life. Whether that trauma has arisen in the workplace, or externally, in both instances the employee will not be able to deliver their best work if they are feeling compromised mentally.
In addition, it is scientifically proven that working an excess of 40 hours per week, not taking long enough breaks as well as sitting at a desk for long periods of time can adversely affect both your mental and physical health. There are many steps that a company can take to develop a culture that enhances the overall wellness of their employees, including workshops, incentives and education.
Mental and Physical Health Education
Health and wellness education should be provided to encourage everyone in the workplace to feel nourished and supported so that they can deliver their best work; work that they can be proud of. A lack of training in this area can be a serious and extensive problem that will lead to a lot of time off and high staff turnover if not addressed correctly from the onset.
Now, more than ever, it is essential for an employer to provide the necessary tools for their employees so that they can lead a healthy lifestyle. It has been proven that if your work culture is too serious and doesn’t promote health and wellness then it becomes problematic and the employees will not be satisfied in the long term. An increasing number of businesses are now embracing employee wellness programs, to educate and create a healthy work environment for their employees. We can help business owners and HR Personnel analyse the cost implications and provide insights that will allow employers to rethink various aspects of employee health and wellness, to ensure a much healthier, happier workforce.
When everyone is not co-located, the above can be difficult. It’s important to still make sure you look after your remote workers mental health. To do this, make sure your holding regular calls (whether video or phone), still rewarding people for efforts, and collecting data through tools such as surveys so you can keep your finger on the pulse. You can read more about this here – Remote workers – mental health in the workplace
Where to start – Wellness Action Plans
If you want to get started with tackling poor mental health in your workplace, then the best way to start is with a wellness action plan. This will help you assess where you are, and where you need to be. You can read more about this in in these articles – Your guide to wellness action plans | 5 reasons to create a wellness action plan | How to build a wellness action plan
What next? – Collecting Data
Once you’ve set up your wellness action plan, and begun carrying out the steps, then how do you check if it’s working or not? You can do this by collecting data and creating wellness reports. You can read more about these here – What is a wellness report? | Collecting wellbeing data to monitor mental health in the workplace
Again it is important to understand what is happening in your workplace, and stop people struggling with mental health issues in the first place – although you can’t always stop it, you can try to prevent as much as possible. You can use Lumien to understand what is happening with your mental health in the workplace and put measures in place to improve this area: