Happiness at work isn't just a 'nice to have'; it should be considered essential. After all, happiness, mental health and wellbeing go hand in hand. Doing all you can to ensure your workers are supported and healthy helps minimise stress levels, improves employee satisfaction and reduces absenteeism.
The employer also reaps the benefits via improved productivity and reduced turnover. Creating a workplace culture that's open, compassionate and inclusive is a good starting point when it comes to promoting mental health and wellbeing at work, alongside practical steps like flexible hours and quiet rooms.
What is mental health & wellbeing?
Considering one in four adults experience mental illness and 914,000 UK workers suffered from work-related stress, anxiety or depression in 2021/22, mental health and wellbeing should be firmly on employers' agendas.
Although subjective, well-being is generally defined as feeling comfortable, healthy or happy. Meanwhile, according to the World Health Organisation, mental health is "a state of wellbeing in which an individual realises their abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively, and contribute to their community".
Given that the average person spends around a third of their life at work, creating an environment where mental health and wellbeing are supported is vital. There's still stigma and misunderstanding around mental health in society and the workplace, so employers must focus on increasing awareness to help break the bias.
Why is mental health & wellbeing important?
When left unchecked, mental health issues can negatively impact employees' motivation, resilience and engagement levels and even lead to burnout. Stressed and unhappy workers may feel insecure in their roles and are more likely to take time off.
Poor mental health and emotional distress can also impact workplace safety, core business processes and compliance requirements. There's the monetary aspect to consider, too: research from Deloitte revealed that poor mental health cost employers up to £56 billion in 2020/21, compared to £45 billion in 2019.
Employers benefit from supporting mental health for many reasons: increased output, enhanced morale and engagement, or better retention rates. Indeed, research by the University of Oxford highlights that happy workers are 13% more productive (and that's not down to them working more hours).
A study by LSE backs that up, confirming that higher employee wellbeing is linked to improved firm performance and lower staff turnover.
But it's about way more than the business and financial aspects. There's also a strong moral case for companies to actively promote wellbeing –it's part of their duty of care and should be embedded in ESG policies under the health and safety section.
Do work stress & mental health issues go together?
If people face demands and pressures at work that don't match their knowledge and they're unable to cope, that can aggravate an existing mental health problem or even lead to poor mental (and physical) health. However, they can also be independent of each other.
Employers are responsible for managing and preventing workplace stress by supporting staff and improving conditions. At the same time, they should take action to help individuals with pre-existing mental health issues which are unrelated to their job.
How do you promote mental health & wellbeing?
To achieve those goals, employees can put several measures in place, many of which were outlined in a government-commissioned report.
The Thriving at Work report 'core standards' include:
- Creating and communicating a 'mental health at work' plan that promotes wellbeing and lets employees know what support is available, should they need it
- Spreading mental health awareness by making tools, information, resources and support easily accessible
- Encouraging open conversations around mental health and wellbeing, whether that's at the recruitment stage or day-to-day
- Offering appropriate workplace adjustments to staff with mental health problems
- Ensuring you provide good working conditions where there's a healthy work-life balance
- Promoting effective people management so that all employees have regular one-to-ones with managers about their mental health and wellbeing
- Training and supporting supervisors regarding how to deal sensitively and effectively when it comes to mental health and wellbeing
- Routinely monitoring workers' mental health and wellbeing by understanding available data and risk factors
The report also suggests that employers can and should go beyond the core standards by:
- Increasing transparency through internal and external reporting
- Demonstrating accountability by nominating a health and wellbeing lead at the board or senior leadership level
- Ensuring tailored in-house mental health support is offered, including Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs)
How can employers support employees?
Mental health is a broad term with many conditions falling under it. To that end, there's no one-size-fits-all approach to supporting workers with mental health issues. At its heart, your approach should be about listening to your employees and not making assumptions. That being said, options to consider include:
- Wellbeing apps like Headspace or Spill, a tool for staff and managers that goes further than a standard EAP
- Screening programmes to help identify people who may be susceptible to mental health issues and provide targeted support at an early stage
- Proactively developing person-specific action plans around identifying signs of mental health problems, triggers, and whom to contact in a crisis
- Flexible hours and break times, provision of quiet rooms, and an agreement to give leave at short notice
What are the benefits of prioritising mental health?
The case for investing in employees' mental health and wellbeing is undeniable. Deloitte's analysis shows that when employers channel funds into mental health and wellbeing support, they can make significant gains: an average £5.30 return for every £1 spent.
However, it goes beyond money, incorporating the desire to create a positive and happy working environment where not just the business thrives but also its people and their personal development.
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