Written by Graham James, Director at Pluxee UK
Mental health and its profound impact on individuals have become an increasingly prominent topic of discussion within our modern society. The once-pervasive taboo surrounding mental health is rapidly diminishing, giving way to a more nuanced understanding of the matter as a genuine challenge rather than a weakness. The increasing openness about mental health issues and their contributing factors is prompting businesses to take notice and consider how they can best support their employees.
Mental health struggles are, regrettably, becoming a more common experience within organisations. It’s estimated that one in three UK employees have faced mental health challenges in the workplace. However, what’s particularly concerning is that 46% of UK employees express apprehension about facing discrimination or social stigma in their workplace due to mental health issues.
The changing landscape of mental health within organisations is reshaping the future of the UK workforce, and employers are helping to normalise discussions around mental health. As such, employees are coming to expect a workplace that proactively values and supports their mental wellbeing. This is an area that was previously seen as a benefit but now needs to be viewed as a necessity.
In the coming years, organisations that invest in mental health support will attract and retain top talent. Prioritising mental health is no longer just a compliance issue but a strategic advantage for thriving in a competitive business environment.
Financial Worries as a Contributor
The causes of poor mental health are subject to ongoing debate. Some argue they’re environmental, while others believe that they’re linked to genetics. One undeniable factor is the role played by current events. The recent pandemic, international incidents and the current economic climate, all impact mental health. In the UK, the cost-of-living crisis has driven up the cost of goods and services and eroded the purchasing power of the pound. As a result, almost half (47%) of employees say that the cost-of-living crisis has had a negative impact on their financial wellbeing, with 41% reporting negative effects on their mental health.
In fact, it goes further than just the current cost-of-living crisis. The Mental Health Foundation has found that poverty is a key driver of mental health issues. Around 14.4 million people in the UK live in poverty (one in five people), and many more are continuing to be pushed below the breadline. What is deeply concerning is that these figures are consistent with historic poverty rates in the UK, which have been fairly persistent for the last 30 years.
With poverty being deeply entrenched in the UK, business leaders cannot afford to believe that mental health and the number of those living in poverty will improve on their own as the cost-of-living crisis eases. Instead, they need to find a way to proactively help alleviate financial concerns for their employees.
Is Your Employer Taking Mental Health Seriously?
Businesses are taking wellbeing more seriously – certainly compared to five years ago. According to a study by the CIPD and SimplyHealth, 53% of respondents feel that their company has a standalone wellbeing strategy ingrained into the wider organisation strategy. This is a 7% increase from 2018. Similarly, 33% of respondents feel that their organisation is more reactive than proactive when it comes to absenteeism related to illness, tending to only act once people are off sick as opposed to promoting wellbeing proactively. While this might not be a positive position to be in, this is a significant improvement with regard to five years ago, when the figure stood at 47%.
Businesses need to view mental health on the same plain as physical health. They should encourage their employees to feel supported, valued, and empowered to prioritise their overall wellbeing. From a business perspective, failing to do so will lead to more employees having to take time off work, hampering productivity and placing further strain on the remaining team picking up the slack. Worse still, not prioritising the mental wellbeing of employees could lead to a higher staff turnover rate.
How Can Businesses Help
There are steps that a business can take to prioritise their employees’ mental health. These include initiatives such as flexible working hours, wellbeing days, access to mental health first aiders, and managerial mental health training.
The key goal here is empowerment, ensuring employees feel like they can prioritise their own wellbeing and encouraging managers to support their team in the best way possible. Offering managers the right training can aid them in identifying the tell-tale signs of mental health issues and encourage them to ask colleagues if they are okay – a significantly more difficult conversation than it might appear to be.
Many businesses are investing in Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) to provide professional help and support for staff. However, just investing in an EAP is not enough. Organisations also need to ensure the programme is visible to everyone in order for employees to feel supported by it. From a business perspective, when it comes to implementing an EAP it’s also vital to have a trusted partner who will help HR teams to navigate the associated challenges and achieve a meaningful change within the business.
Ultimately, businesses are increasingly focused on employees’ wellbeing. They are implementing official assistance programmes to ensure managers and employees have access to the right toolkit and are able to offer and receive better support. However, setting up wellbeing programmes should not be a one-off endeavour. Organisations should keep these under constant review and adapt them as necessary as new ways of working develop.
The most supportive businesses will always have their finger on the pulse of their employees’ mental health to ensure they are leaders of wellbeing. This ongoing commitment to employee wellness not only fosters a healthier and happier workforce but also contributes to increased productivity, reduced turnover, and a stronger overall organisational culture. It’s a long-term investment that pays off in both human and financial terms, making it a cornerstone of success in the modern workplace.