Health and WellbeingIs workplace mental health at tipping point?

Is workplace mental health at tipping point?

Over the past few years, employee wellbeing has risen up the corporate agenda in the UK, and is now one of the hottest issues facing businesses. Wellbeing is in the spotlight and is the hot topic at work, at home and in the media, but what are the facts?

We know from our own research that Brits are under significant workplace strain, with more than 1 in 3 (36%) confessing they think about quitting their position on a regular basis. The study revealed that 13% of employees are resorting to pulling a sickie to cope with stress, and another 13% admitted to feeling stressed at least once a day.

The good news is that attitudes are changing. Unlike 5-10 years ago, mental health is now a recognised conversation in the workplace or it is for the HR community at least. According to focused research we undertook with HR Directors and Managers, employers overwhelmingly agree that taking a sick day for mental ill health is completely acceptable. The findings revealed that 94% of HRs believe depression or anxiety is an adequate reason to call in sick, and over (80%) believe that workplace stress is also a legitimate reason for a sick day.

In contrast, employees were still reticent to admit taking time off due to workplace pressures and believed it was not an acceptable reason to call in sick. The research showed that only 13% of employees had called in sick due to feelings of stress, with 10% admitting that they did not want to face up to their workload. This staggering gap in how mental health is perceived must change, or we’ll never make progress.

1 in 4

1 in 4 people experience a mental health issue every year, so it’s extremely important for businesses to promote a supportive, non-judgemental ethos to encourage employees to take time off if they need it, and most importantly encourage a conversation if people are struggling. Our research shows that 80% of HRs agree that physical symptoms such as back or joint pain is an acceptable reason to call in sick, so it is a step in the right direction that mental ill health is being recognised in the same way.

However, this is easier said than done. Many businesses struggle to build a successful, coherent and holistic wellbeing strategy which incorporates responses to mental ill health. With employees increasingly varied in their needs, both professionally and personally, businesses have struggled to formulate an offering that meets the needs of a diverse workforce that includes Generation X, Millennials and increasingly Gen Z.

What’s more, engaging a workforce around their wellbeing, often involves breaking down barriers, including counteracting blame culture or personal feelings around wellbeing – such as the stigma towards mental ill health – and the employee themselves.

It’s also alarming to see that nearly a third (32%) of employees would keep quiet about their mental ill health, preferring not to let anyone know. Over 55s (40%) were the most likely not to tell anyone, compared to 18% of 25-34-year-olds, highlighting that millennials are more open to discussions about their emotional wellbeing, so firms should consider how they approach employees on an individual basis. Little steps like getting to know employees personally can help with tailoring a conversation. It’s imperative that Brits stop the ‘stiff upper lip’ mentality and talk to someone about their mental health concerns if things are to truly change. Action is needed to spread the supportive message, to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Lead mental health from the top

Mental ill health can have a profound effect on an employee’s ability to do their job. It can affect motivation, performance and relationships at work. The impact can be lessened by taking preventative measures to mitigate the risk of triggering such feelings, and by putting support systems into place such as team meetings or one-to-ones. Setting an example from the top gives a clear message that mental health is an integral part of everyone’s wellbeing.

Employee wellbeing is no longer a tickbox exercise, and aligning it with business strategy can pay dividends. Setting out the reasons for the strategy whether it be client requirement, talent acquisition and retention or workplace culture, can not only provide a purpose, but it can also help with goal setting and milestones. This enables an organic approach to wellbeing, with the opportunity to change attitudes where possible.

Many negative influences on employee wellbeing can be supported or resolved by employers, just by putting simple, low or no cost measures in place to demonstrate they’re invested in the employee as an individual, and not just their output.

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Mental health and wellbeing is important, both personally and professionally, and it is key that employers remember that. CABA is the charity that supports the wellbeing of chartered accountants.

About the author

By Laura Little, Learning & Development Manager, CABA

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