1 in 4 people experience mental health issues each year. This figure draws to light the challenges that will have to be bridged before we see the normalization of mental health in the workplace, especially with the effects of Covid-19 on employee wellbeing still yet to be realized. Companies must be proactive. We’ve recently partnered with health insurer BHSF, for example, to offer an Employee Assistance Programme, a confidential service that supports employees with any issues that could be affecting their work or personal life.
In this blog, I want to address three challenges that companies will need to solve to prevent the ‘ticking time bomb’ that is employee mental health from causing significant problems for them in the not too distant future.
With only 14% of employees feeling comfortable talking about mental health in the workplace, organizations have a huge barrier to overcome to empower people and make them feel safe and supported to speak on the topic. These ‘invisible illnesses’ carry a huge amount of stigma, and many feel worried to discuss mental health in the workplace.
Tackling problems associated with communication boil down to just a few things. Business leaders need to be prepared to lead by example, and wherever possible express their own experiences. This will differ from company to company, individual to individual, but doing this will significantly increase the trust amongst your workforce, where individuals will feel they are able to speak if they feel the need to do so. Addressing the stigma of mental health through staff webinars, regular 1 to 1s, and up to date, online resources will go a long way in tackling this challenge of communication.
Companies that acknowledge mental health as a challenge they wish to overcome will lead by example and create an environment where employees feel supported to share their own experiences. In return, this may well play its part in creating a more trusting, secure, and happy workforce, which will pay dividends to any business down the line.
When asked, 69% of UK line managers thought that supporting employee wellbeing was a core skill, yet only 13% received mental health training. The difference here is staggering and responsibility here falls largely into the hands of the employer and the priority of training initiatives. Addressing the stigma of mental health, we have already seen, needs to be example led, therefore processes and resources must also follow suit.
Employer responsibility surrounding physical health tends to be clearer. Measures are taken when, for example, an employee is physically incapacitated, and to continue productivity needs to be allowed flexibility around working arrangements. Yet we do not see the same flexibility to support mental health issues in the workplace. Many managers understand the need but do not have the confidence to address such sensitive topics. Training on the subject, and consistent employee onboarding processes will instill and quickly filter through the business the importance of employee mental health.
Ensuring that those in the business that are expected to handle employee mental health issues are prepared to the best possible standard and feel confident in their ability to help a situation is so important in tackling the challenge.
With only 25% of HR professionals feeling they are able to spot potential warning signs of employee mental health, and businesses only able to attribute 13% of all sick days taken to mental health conditions, it is obvious that the visibility of such conditions within organizations is far from clear. The impact of this lack of clarity is massive for businesses. Without patterns or data available, companies lack the fundamental basics of understanding their employees and what may or may not be going on in their lives.
Early intervention can make a huge difference to someone experiencing a mental health issue. Often it can feel incredibly isolating and this, along with the stigma of mental health, can make it impossible to openly discuss the topic. With adequate systems in place, managers can spot trends in those absent due to sickness. They can take note of this and signpost individuals to health resources at the time employees need it. Additionally, alerts can be sent to HR and wellness teams to highlight potential problems. If managers are better equipped, they can do more to help sooner.
With signs of mental health differing for everyone, it is crucial that organizations can acknowledge mental health issues as soon as they present themselves. In this unprecedented situation we all find ourselves in, supporting your workforce’s mental wellbeing is simply more mission-critical than ever. There’s no better time to equip your organization with insights-driven absence tracking and provide accessible, professional health and wellness advice to your workforce.
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Katrina is edays' own People Director with significant UK and international experience in delivering people strategy and value-adding HR solutions across a range of organisations and sectors (including Arriva, Boots, Rolls Royce, the utility and charity sectors). Katrina has over 20 years of experience in Human Resources and is CIPD qualified.