There’s never been more talk about building a real culture of openness and removing the stigma surrounding mental health in the workplace – but what is your organisation doing to support what employees need the most?
This Wellspace article aims to explore the common stigma surrounding mental health and ways in which we can go about removing the stigma to promote mental wellness at work.
The Stigma Surrounding Mental Health
Several statistics help us navigate the uncertain landscape of mental health within the workplace, guiding us as businesses to make changes to improve the state of wellness within our companies.
In 2016 the Farmer Stephenson Review stated that more people were “in work with a mental health condition than ever before, with 300,000 people with a long-term mental health condition leaving employment every year”.
The report also found that the prevalence of common mental health problems has increased over the last two decades, with the biggest rises in anxiety and depression.
In recent years employee, health and wellbeing have been slowly creeping up the corporate business agenda. The pandemic has undoubtedly forced the issue more urgently into focus, with organisations facing the spectrum of mental health challenges in and outside of the workplace.
Poor mental wellbeing has a huge impact on individuals ranging from lack of sleep, panic attacks, and difficulty concentrating to low mood and confidence. These symptoms can lead to a downwards spiral with individuals withdrawing from social situations and support networks at a time when they need them most. The ultimate human cost of poor mental health without support can be loss of life.
The knock-on impact on family and friends is also important, as poor mental health also means that individuals can find themselves less able to cope with elements of their personal lives such as relationship breakdown and financial worries.
Employment can have a positive and negative impact on an individual’s mental wellbeing and, with most adults spending a significant proportion of their waking hours at work, there must be systems in place to prevent and support mental wellbeing challenges.
Positively, respondents to the CIPD’S Health and Wellbeing Work Report 2021 found that the vast majority of organisations have taken additional action to support employee health and wellbeing in response to the pandemic, with a particular focus on employees’ mental health and more provision of tailored support to address individuals’ needs.
Organisations that are taking steps to identify and reduce stress are also using an increased range of methods. 80% of respondents’ organisations are using employee assistance programmes (EAPs), an increase from just under 66% in 2020.
The findings also show a substantial increase in the proportion of taking a preventative approach to managing stress via, for example, staff surveys or focus groups to identify the causes of stress. An increasing proportion of organisations appear to also be providing training and particularly around how to build personal resilience.
Removing The Stigma
Whilst 77% of respondents also believe that their organisation actively promotes good mental wellbeing (up from 58% in 2020), only half believe it is effective in tackling workplace stress or in identifying and managing the increased mental health risks arising from the pandemic. Crucially, respondents remain less positive regarding the skills and confidence of managers to support and assist with mental health.
The Business In The Community Mental Wellbeing At Work Survey 2020 echoes the CIPD’s concerns, suggesting that 30% of employees are increasingly telling no one about their mental health.
Whilst employees feel supported by colleagues and managers, a significant proportion (39%) do not feel that HR departments consider employee mental wellbeing, with a similar number (39%) feeling CEOs and boards also lack consideration. Most alarmingly, 62% of managers also say that at times they have had to put the interest of the organisation above the wellbeing of their colleagues.
Aside from the pandemic, 59% of respondents to the CIPD report suggest that the primary cause of stress is still and workload with 32% of respondents naming management ability as the next highest cause of stress.
Lightening The Load
Organisations cannot ignore pressure and workload are the biggest drivers of work-related poor mental health.
Many employees were already at capacity, with 51% stating their poor mental health is due to pressure (BITC), with research by the CIPD echoing this figure. With work-life boundaries blurring, the focus is needed to redesign jobs that promote long-term mental health and build on the positives that have been found in the new ways of working, to avoid employee burn-out and promote healthier work-life integration.
On The Front Line
Managers play a critical role in how individuals feel about their working life, creating an environment to enable people to thrive and a touchpoint when an employee is struggling, as well as their daily remit. Despite this, organisations are still not providing the support and training needed to ensure managers have the confidence and capability to carry out these functions.
Employers have an opportunity to equip managers to have empathetic, sometimes difficult, conversations about mental wellbeing, spot early warning signs and effectively signpost sources of support. To enable managers to perform their role effectively, they need the behaviours, education and capability they will only gain from receiving the right training, support and expert guidance. It’s also key to note that many managers have been under increased pressure themselves and essential not to forget that they need help too.
Creating a culture of openness and support around wellbeing is a moving target, evolving to meet the constantly changing influences of the wider environment and employee needs and striving toward removing the stigma surrounding mental health.
“Having a wellbeing strategy does not mean having to have all the answers” comments Lisa Whittleton “companies shouldn’t be put off by this wording and many find the term ‘wellbeing commitment’ more useful”.
The strategy should take in the wider vision, the organisation’s ‘why’ and how it links to its wider values to anchor it.
At its core, it must have challenging conversations and feedback around what’s going on for employees and ensure that it looks to the key challenges of promoting a manageable workload, work-life integration and managers that are equipped to spot early and signpost the challenges as they arise for the benefit of all.
Removing The Stigma With Wellspace
The Wellspace application features a mental health tracker where employees can log their current state of mental health. This innovation moves closer to creating a culture of openness and allowing employers and employees to monitor and make changes to mental health.
Allowing employees to identify mood patterns and stressors means they can take one step further to improve their mental health and in turn the culture of wellness at work.
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