EngagementEmployee EngagementWorkplace mental health: Flexibility and support make all the difference

Workplace mental health: Flexibility and support make all the difference

With mental health heavily impacting the UK economy, Zoe Blake, CEO at XenZone discusses how flexibility and support can help tackle this issue.

We’re all familiar with that mad rush in the morning. Keys? Check. Phone? In my bag. Change for the bus? Back pocket. As long as we’ve got all the things we need, the working day can throw anything at us.

But there’s something else we take to work too: our mental health. While the days when mental health at work was taboo may be behind us, it’s still the case that many of us don’t feel comfortable about opening up to colleagues and employers about what may be troubling us.

Left untreated and unacknowledged, this can become a problem, not just for ourselves, but our workplaces too: the Centre for Mental Health estimates poor mental health costs the UK economy £34.9bn per year in lost productivity, sickness absence and staff turnover.

And this is an issue that affects all organisations, big and small. Take the NHS – the UK’s biggest employer, with more than 1.5 million people on its payroll. Its latest Staff Survey makes for interesting reading and highlights a paradox: that while around three-quarters are enthusiastic about their job and believe in the difference they make to society, just 28.6% of staff felt their employer took positive steps to support their health and wellbeing, a decline from the previous year. Troublingly, 39.8% of health workers reported feeling unwell as a result of work-related stress in the last 12 months, the highest figure for five years.

Healthcare workers are subject to the kind of pressures most of us don’t experience on a regular basis and, as an organisation, the NHS faces an immense challenge to deliver the excellent quality of care it does routinely in a climate of constrained budgets and ever-rising demand.

As CEO of XenZone, the UK’s largest provider of digital mental health services, I see huge opportunity in the new models of care technology enables, not only in delivering support and treatment in a more immediate and relevant way to the UK workforce, but also (and relatedly) in helping alleviate problems of staff recruitment and retention for healthcare workers.

Today, we employ over 150 mental health workers to deliver our online services, which are commissioned by over half of NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) across England, as well as private employers. Each time we advertise a new post we receive enough applications from qualified candidates to fill the role many times over. In our last staff survey over 4 out of 5 people said they were happy at work and felt they had the flexibility to balance their work and personal lives (we are keen to push that figure even higher).

This is in part because we offer secure employment over the long term, structured to fit around other demands in people’s lives and eliminating the need for long commutes or to live in high-cost areas. Working remotely, these experienced professionals can support people across the

country, helping to alleviate pressure on the NHS in those areas – as well as giving faster access for those who so desperately need mental health support.

Not all organisations will be able to offer the kind of flexibility a digital service provider like us can. That’s why it’s crucial to have strong HR policies that support staff who may be experiencing problems and training for line managers. To make sure they’re alive to the warning signs of common mental health conditions and know how to respond appropriately. More enlightened companies are increasingly taking a proactive early intervention approach, offering workers online mental and wellbeing health support as an ‘employee perk’ where their internal expertise may be limited. As an organisation, we have set ourselves the goal being a leader in providing early response mental health support for our staff and their families, using our own innovative models and seeking out best practice in others. And as a service provider, we are working with innovative companies as keen as we are to support their employees to better mental health.

The bottom line is, it’s in everyone’s interests to get this right. Mental ill-health doesn’t discriminate and most of us will experience a problem at some point in our working lives. As employers, it’s our role to build prevention into workplace culture, so that these problems don’t turn into a crisis for individuals or firms.

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