It is fair to say that the past few years have impacted us all; from Covid-19 to the looming financial crisis, times have been and still are difficult. Unsurprisingly, stress, depression, and anxiety have skyrocketed within the workplace, accelerating trends seen prior to the pandemic and creating a catastrophic impact on morale and productivity. So, this begs the question, how can businesses better support their employees?
A study conducted by the mental health charity, Mind, found that one in four people in the UK will experience some form of mental health problem each year. A report published by CV-Library further supports this claim, noting that from a group of 1,200 UK workers, 14.1% of respondents admitted to suffering with mental health problems, with this number increasing to 26.9% amongst under 18s. Furthermore, 89% of individuals stated that these issues impact their working life. This crisis can be seen on an international scale; for example, in Japan, there is a term for sudden death caused by overworking, Karoshi.
Quite simply, this pandemic truly has consequences for everyone. It resides in workplaces across the globe, bubbling away beneath the surface, trapped in the minds of those who are too afraid to speak out due to fear of judgement. Indeed, the stigma surrounding mental illness meant that the same CV-Library study found that 60.2% of professionals would be embarrassed disclosing information regarding the state of their mental health to their employer. This number is worrying – especially as, in the UK, over 300,000 people leave their jobs each year for mental health related reasons.
There are several key work-oriented issues that are known to exacerbate or cause mental health strain: an unhealthy work/life balance, excessive workloads, understaffing, job insecurity, long or inflexible hours, to name a few. Psychological risks can be found in all sectors. Deloitte uncovered that between September 2020 and August 2021, 52% of study participants did not feel supported by their employer, with almost one-third of the 40,000 employees stating that they would like more action to be taken by their employer. It could be said that this displays a clear disconnect between business leaders and their staff, which is perhaps evident of a greater concern that transcends generation, position, and industry.
When profits are valued more than employee wellbeing, it is an inherent failure on the part of the employer, and not only does it put the staff at risk, but it also poses a risk to the company. The World Health Organisation highlights that an estimated 12 billion working days are lost per annum to depression and anxiety, amounting to a cost of US$1 trillion per year in missed productivity. For businesses both large and small, this can have a significant impact, and much of this stems from the fact that businesses are not prepared to manage their workforce’s mental wellbeing.
As an employer, you have a legal responsibility to help your employees – mental health is not something that can be pushed aside or left for HR to deal with. Your business should have the infrastructure necessary to handle such stress factors, be it providing employees with a healthy and sustainable work/life balance or by implementing a solid mental health at work plan, the latter of which being recommended by Stevenson and Farmer’s ‘Thriving at Work’ Review. However, knowing where to begin or even how to get your employees talking about mental health can often be a challenge in and of itself.
Cultivating a healthier working environment does not have to come at a great cost; in fact, many of the solutions outlined in Stevenson and Farmer’s review can be executed promptly and with great efficacy. One such example is that of increasing transparency and accountability – by doing so, employers are showcasing strong leadership, which is vital for generating tangible mental health action, and in turn, encouraging organisation-wide change. Moreover, business leaders are also called to promote effective people management, develop mental health awareness amongst employees, and routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing.
Whilst mental health courses and awareness videos can be beneficial, these often tend to only effect short-term change. To create an environment that fosters wellbeing and vitality – both in a physical and mental sense, as these two elements are intrinsically connected – executives must examine the fundamentals of their organisations. Are your employees being paid fairly? Is the work setting one that inspires positivity and innovation? Can your employees work freely, without stress or an immense amount of pressure?
In order to respond to these questions, employers may wish to look into flexible or remote working schemes, which have proven to supply workers with a plethora of benefits. By providing employees with more control over how they work and when they work, leaders are handing over a large amount of trust and responsibility, which often leads to fulfilment and a sense of wellbeing. If the employer is able, they may also opt to focus on pay, especially in the wake of the current financial emergency. Of course, money is one of the core factors behind stress and anxiety, as shown by a Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, who explain that people with anxiety and depression on average have a median gross annual income of £8,400 less than that of people without those conditions.
Mental health problems are never going to go away, but there are hundreds of things that can be done to alleviate the side effects of them, both in and out of the workplace. The evident rift between staff expectations and what employers on an international scope are offering is a cause for contention – but it is something that can be changed with time and effort. Whether it comes down to offering better pay, transforming into a more transparent organisation, or altering priorities, businesses need to bring about healthier, employee-oriented work situations, for both their and the staff’s sake. Otherwise, this issue will intensify like a hurricane, causing unprecedented and unnecessary disruption.
Words by Amelia Walker