A clean bill of mental health: Why employee wellbeing is about more than your bottom line

woman being comforted by colleague, mental ill health

If you, a professional writer, broke your arm, what would you do?

Clearly, you would seek the help of medical professionals, who would put the arm in a cast and—one might hope—offer painkillers. Back in the workplace, everyone would be asking how you are, and whether there is anything they could do to help. Why, then, is it not so straightforward regarding mental health?

In any single year, one in six workers are likely to be suffering with a mental health condition.  Evidence suggests that 12.7 per cent of all sickness absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions.

Just because we can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

Certainly, in recent years, as the issue has been gradually destigmatised in the public sphere, many firms have made great strides in creating awareness around employee mental health. This can range from the basic— such as promoting wellbeing at work through personalised information and advice, seminars and workshops—to more thorough, such as workplace intervention in the form of employee screening and care management for those living with (or at risk of) depression.

Many conditions start or are exacerbated by workplace pressure and stigma. In a recent MIND study, when asked how workplace stress had affected them, more than one in five (21 per cent) agreed that they had called in sick to avoid work; 14 per cent said that they had resigned, while 42 per cent had considered it. Conversely, just 30 per cent of the same study felt able to talk openly with line managers if feeling stressed.

Destigmatising these issues goes far beyond pasting a few posters promoting Mental Health Week. Companies must play a significant part in breaking down barriers around discussing mental health issues. A first step is crystallising for your staff that it’s okay to be sick for mental health reasons — no questions or judgement attached.

Often mental health issues can spiral if patients feel they can’t talk to anyone. Businesses have a duty of care to ensure that they recognise the signs, but often feel underprepared. Some 56 per cent of employers said they would like to do more to improve staff wellbeing, but don’t feel they have the right training or guidance. At Momentum Worldwide, we have a mental health first aider, and also run frequent mental health workshops to ensure we are educating our employees just as we would with health and safety.

We spend such a large chunk of our time at work, it’s important that we raise awareness and provide effective help – whether through counselling, or by offering support from Occupational Health, to ensure that the right measures are being taken to set an individual up for success, regardless of any disability. You wouldn’t expect a physically disabled employee to work on the tenth floor without a lift. So why expect a mentally ill employee to be at their best without appropriate support measures in place?

Notions of presenteeism need to be eradicated. Flexible working, an open culture, and staff training will help reduce further the stigma, and in turn, absenteeism. More than ever there is a need for companies to dedicate time, money and strategy to mental health awareness—not just to protect your bottom line—but because knowing your staff are at their best, at work or home, is simply the right thing to do.

About the author

Kate Thrumble heads up the Talent (HR) team at Momentum UK. She is responsible for the full employee life cycle from attraction, retention and exit.

Kate joined Momentum Worldwide as a recruitment manager in 2013 and quickly moved into more generalist HR role to help shape and re-think the employee journey at the agency.

Working closely with Momentum Worldwide, Kate partnered on a number of global projects leading to greater cohesion and development of standards across many of the offices in terms of its people practices.

Prior to joining Momentum, Kate worked in house at Burberry and Hearst Magazines.

Kate is duties include Recruitment, Employee Relations, Compensation and Benefits, Learning and Development. Also responsible for overseeing and managing the MFit offering.

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