Mental Health Awareness Week, 15-21 May 2023
It’s Mental Health Awareness Week, and it’s great to reflect on how far everything has come on this topic. It’s fair to say that when I started my HR career, mental health was barely on the agenda at all – and certainly not something that businesses needed to take an active interest in. Awareness has really come a long way, and active intervention to support mental wellbeing was given a huge boost by the COVID-19 pandemic.
But as that pandemic chaos and disruption retreated in our rear-view mirror, those active interventions began to take a back seat as well – and sadly, that is the opposite of progress. I believe it’s time, once again, for workplaces to move beyond awareness and start taking proactive steps to promote mental wellness for their staff.
Front and Centre
People are talking about mental health as a matter of course now, and it’s a topic that’s front-and-centre in the workplace, instead of being talked about darkly in low voices. It’s great to see, and it did get some serious help from the COVID pandemic: we all had to accommodate new working arrangements very quickly, and being aware of the effects of these on employees became an important consideration. Many workplaces began to take active steps to support employees with their mental wellbeing, rather than just talking about how important it is – but as time has gone on, and normal service has begun to resume, it’s slipping back down the list of priorities. Costs are rising in every area, so investing in mental wellbeing is taking a hit – but it’s one of those areas you can’t afford to cut.
Mental Health is a Big Deal
Based on global figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO) released in 2022, (citation needed), 15 out of 100 employees are likely to be struggling with a diagnosed mental health issue. According to the mental health charity MIND, 1 in 4 people experience a mental health concern every year, and 1 in 6 experience anxiety or depression each week.
The impact of this is more than significant, especially for small and medium organisations who rely on their staff’s experience, knowledge and availability to operate. From a productivity standpoint alone, it makes sense to take steps to support good mental health. We accept that flu season comes round every year, and we do what we can to reduce the risks of infection and support staff when they come down with it. It’s brilliant that we’re recognising the impacts of mental health struggles as well, and that we’re starting to support people in the same way to prevent them.
What can employers do?
Similar to managing flu season, proactively supporting mental wellbeing has the same effect as accident prevention, and the spreading of germs – you’re doing what you can to safeguard your staff’s health. You aim to reduce risk, and raise awareness – so think about how you would do this for other parts of your business, and for yourself…
- Consider the main triggers and tackle them. Stress is probably the top of the list of work-based dangers to mental wellbeing. Workloads and ensuring that the team are coping with the demands placed on them is therefore going to be a universal core concern.
- Create a mental wellbeing policy that is suitable for your own environment. Your workplace needs to be at the heart of your support, and each business will come at this from a different angle, depending on its needs.
- Create an open and inclusive environment – because the better people feel in your workplace, the happier they will be to work there. They’ll also feel more able to talk about their problems if they feel they will be heard, which gives you the chance to offer support.
- Train your managers so that everyone is clear on the values and practices at the core of your workplace, and to instil awareness of stress and pressure, and what to do about them.
- Respect work-life balance as part of your engrained culture. You can’t force people to leave their work at the desk and take downtime, but you can lead by example and make it simple for them to follow suit. Respect your own weekend and holiday boundaries, and expect it from your staff as well.
- Look around you – environment is so important. A work gym and changing facilities are a great way to boost physical and mental wellbeing, but make sure the basics are right as well. Clean toilets and somewhere to fill up a water bottle are small things to get right that make a huge difference to daily wellbeing.
What you’ll get in return
Having a strong mental wellbeing policy that is properly implemented and supported by a “Watch and Help” culture, will give you a healthier, more engaged, and more productive workforce. The main benefit though is to prevent a small problem escalating into a full-blown period of depression or anxiety.
Deloitte released a study which suggests that organisations could see a return of £5 for every £1 spent on proactively supporting mental health, which is a compelling case on its own (read more here: https://www2.deloitte.com/uk/en/pages/consulting/articles/mental-health-and-employers-refreshing-the-case-for-investment.html)
We all have wider needs than a comfy chair or a dental plan. For true health, the ‘human machine’ needs more than having their basic physical needs met, to support their mental welfare. Offering that support will nurture the staff you have, and give them another reason to stay – and you’ll also become known as an employer who values every aspect of your staff’s wellbeing.
Help to do it
Many of these actions to support mental wellbeing will fall naturally into a business’s HR portfolio. For many small and medium businesses, that means more jobs on the owner’s to-do list – not great for their mental wellbeing, either. That’s where Haus of HR come in: so many employers are asking us to help them with HR policies that care for the mental wellbeing of their employees in the same way we do for their physical wellbeing. If you want to know more about this area, call us and let’s talk.
You can also download a copy of our free guide on How to Improve Your Employees’ Mental Health and Wellbeing here.