As we all know, 'Mental Health in the Workplace' has been a hot topic over the last few years and it is good to see that a vast number of organisations are taking it far more seriously these days, with CIPD research showing a steady increase in the number of employers raising awareness of mental health across the workforce.
Here at Pro-Recruitment Group, we are increasingly being asked by candidates about employer’s wellbeing policies when considering a job offer and, on some occasions, before they have even stepped through the door at interview stage. The findings of the latest annual 'Health and Wellbeing at Work' survey by the CIPD, based on replies from over 1,000 UK organisations in reference to 3.2 million employees, reflected employers' growing recognition of their critical role in improving the health of the working-age population.
However, research conducted by the CIPD in partnership with Simplyhealth has shown that one in six organisations are still not doing anything to improve employee wellbeing. Stress-related absence from work has increased over the last year in nearly two-fifths of organisations and this year, an increased proportion of employees have blamed management style for this. This research also found that less than a third of senior leaders encourage a focus on mental wellbeing through their actions and behaviour - some candidates are even stating that a lack of wellbeing recognition is a key reason for leaving their current organisation.
But just how damaging can a lack of acknowledgement around mental health be, not only on the individual but also when it comes to retaining and hiring employees?
What can employers do?
Employers can do a lot to encourage a culture of openness and to look after their employees' wellbeing - in this day and age, it’s vital that a workplace is a safe place for people to discuss mental health. Here are 4 things that organisations can do to look after employee health and wellbeing in the workplace.
1. Encouraging people to talk can be key. Although there has been a significant amount of progress recently on mental health and wellbeing, some people are still not comfortable with discussing the topic openly and may fear being stigmatised. We all want to appear strong and capable in the workplace, so this is not particularly surprising, and it can also be difficult to admit to yourself that your mental wellbeing is suffering - or indeed recognise some of the symptoms. At Pro, we have introduced wellbeing questions and objectives into our employee review and appraisal system, and wellbeing has also become a topic that we discuss alongside performance-based reviews.
2. Return to work interviews are incredibly important in discovering mental health issues and ensuring an organisation is offering support to anyone affected. It is vital that these are conducted with all employees after a period of absenteeism and not just when there is a potential issue, and should be enforced as company policy for all to support people's return to the workplace. The average level of employee absence this year is the lowest ever recorded in the last nineteen years which demonstrates the improvements made in recent years to support employees. However, while minor illness remains the most common cause of work absence, mental ill health is increasingly prevalent as a cause of both short- and long-term absence.
3. Providing training and strengthening the capability of line managers in the workplace with regards to mental health is also pivotal in promoting employee wellbeing. CIPD findings showed that health and wellbeing activity has more positive outcomes where line managers are bought in to the importance of wellbeing. Managers don't need to be health experts, but it is important to recognise warning signs of ill health and recognise the value of wellbeing at work. Training and equipping employees to act as Mental Health ambassadors, or the introduction of a 'buddy system' in the workplace are also things that encourage a culture of openness around the topic of mental health.
4. Introducing wellbeing initiatives, and continuously evaluating and improving these initiatives is an important responsibility of organisations when looking out for the wellbeing of employees. Having a standalone mental health policy for employees, or initiatives like offering counselling and mental health support, employee assistance programmes, flexible working arrangements and encouraging activities that promote a healthy work-life balance are all things that will help to ensure employees feel supported at work. Here at Pro, we recently spoke to a charity who had introduced 'mental health duvet days'. The organisation allowed their employees three designated duvet days a year which were not taken from their overall holiday allowance, where they could look after their personal wellbeing. Another organisation followed a similar path, offering five 'duvet mornings' a year. This may sound generous, but organisations who have introduced initiatives such as this have found that sickness and absenteeism reduced quite significantly as a result.
People are an organisation's greatest asset, and so looking after people at work in these ways should not be considered a benefit, but a necessary support for businesses and their employees. As Professor Sir Cary Cooper CBE, President of the CIPD has stated, building compassionate workplaces goes hand in hand with acknowledging the complexity of people's lives in today's modern workplace and having respect for people as individuals. Here, there is a strong association with better health and wellbeing because a compassionate culture is one which encourages trust and openness, and where people feel confident to discuss any issues and receive the support they need.
Some of these may seem like small steps to make, but they are steps that could have a huge impact on the wellbeing and mental health of employees at work. As well as this, integrating compassion as part of your organisation's wellbeing strategy may end up being a huge selling point to potential candidates, as well as an effective tool for increasing staff retention and wellbeing.