Furthermore, as Kathy Doherty, HR Director EMEA at Cubic Corporation, points out, “there’s no doubt that the events of the past two years have put a huge strain on the mental health of our nation – with stressors compounded by remote work, lockdowns, economic uncertainty and health concerns. According to HSE, stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 50% of all work-related ill health cases in 2020/21, an increase on pre-pandemic rates. And, while crucially, employee wellbeing has risen up the corporate agenda, this needs to stay front of mind as organisations continue discussions about how best to return to office life.”
So how can business leaders offer effective mental health support for their staff?
Nine in ten people in the UK who suffer from mental health problems are still experiencing stigma and discrimination, which can compound the initial difficulties and make it hard for them to seek help. A vital first step for organisations looking to tackle the problem is, therefore, to create an open and supportive culture that will encourage staff to seek help.
“Whilst mental health issues have been spoken about more widely in recent years, employees may find it daunting to share if they are struggling with their manager,” explains Rob Shaw, SVP Global Sales at Fluent Commerce. “Employers should create a culture where employees are able to openly discuss their feelings without fear of repercussion. Sharing online resources, having dedicated chat platforms where concerns can be shared, or having a qualified Mental Health First Aider, all help to support employees and show you are dedicated to their wellbeing.”
Dave Birchall, Chief People Officer at Node4, agrees: “Organisations must make a conscious effort to monitor the mental wellbeing of their employees. Small acts can make a big difference. Whether it is a regular coffee morning for people to connect and catch up, encouraging employees to take regular breaks or more structured support, such as providing tips and techniques to help manage stress or access to professional support services.
“Here at Node4, we’re committed to looking after our employees’ mental wellbeing and destigmatising mental ill-health.”
“Employers should also create opportunities for open dialogues that enable workers to be forthright about their concerns or challenges, without fear of retribution, adopting a more person-centric approach to managing the health and wellbeing of their workforces,” concludes Kathryn Barnes, Employment Counsel EMEA at Globalization Partners.
As well as a supportive culture, businesses should look to implement practical policies to help support their staff.
Richard Guy, Country Sales Manager UK & Ireland at Ergotron, explains that, “initiatives need to be led right from the top of organisations, with annual reviews replaced with ongoing mentorship and regular check-ins with workers to see how people are feeling. This could be anything from a comfortable workspace that supports your posture and enables you to be efficient, to ensuring you’re taking the right breaks, or that problems with workload, healthcare or lifestyle factors aren’t weighing on your mind. Finding creative ways for informal collaboration through technology – for instance Slack and Skype – give everyone access to say ‘How’s it going?’ or ‘I’m not OK’.”
Hugh Scantlebury, Founder & CEO of Aqilla, points out that these policies don’t have to involve huge change. “Small actions — such as reminding employees to take breaks throughout the workday — make a big difference. Similarly, regular and informal check-ins allow employees to address any concerns. All these things can play a part in reducing stress and avoiding burnout. At Aqilla, we encourage everyone — employees, partners, and customers — to maintain a healthy work-life balance.”
Ian Rawlings RVP EMEA, SumTotal, agrees, noting that, “simple steps, such as instituting regular check-ins with employees, can make a big difference, especially in remote working environments. Touching base with employees is an easy way to help reduce any feelings of isolation or built up worries. Stress management training, that gives all staff the tools and techniques they need to help deal with stress, will also be beneficial as the workplace continues to evolve.”
“Especially after the mental and emotional strain that the pandemic has had on us all, it is vital that organisations implement initiatives to combat stress and support employees before they are negatively impacted,” adds Anne Tiedemann, SVP, People & Investor Relations at Glasswall. For example, “practising mindfulness is one way organisations can tackle workplace stress – it encourages us to obtain a balanced mental state by taking time out in our day to concentrate on the present moment. When employees take this time for themselves, even if it’s just five minutes a day, it helps them to reset their minds and let go of any stress that has built up.”
As we move past enforced homeworking, employers looking to support mental wellbeing should keep things flexible, argues Gillian Mahon, Chief People and Places Officer at Totalmobile.
“Pressuring your staff to return to an office full time – or simply more days than suits them anymore – can have a negative impact on their mental health, putting them under undue stress as they try to balance their new habits with a traditional working pattern. A recent Ipsos survey for the World Economic Forum found that in the UK, only 27% of employees surveyed wanted to return to the office five days per week.
“Businesses can improve their employees’ quality of life both in and outside of work by implementing hybrid or flexible working policies. Data from the 2021 Census revealed that 85% of employees currently working from home wanted to have a hybrid approach in future where they can work both from home and in the office. The findings also showed that ‘improved staff wellbeing’ was the main reason for businesses planning to make remote working a permanent part of their company policies. Ultimately, workers who have the flexibility they desire are going to be happier at work, reducing their stress levels and improving their productivity overall – it’s a win-win scenario.”