Employee mental health has been in the news a lot lately; there have been several high profile campaigns – including one by the Royal brothers Princes William and Harry – highlighting the issue of mental health and attempting to reduce the stigma that still surrounds it.
It’s sad that in 2018, it seems as though we’re only just beginning to have these conversations with each other, but it appears to be true.
According to the most recent statistics from the Mental Health Foundation, almost 1 in 8 people will experience mental health problems in the workplace, and approximately 12.7% of all sickness days taken in the UK can be attributed to mental health.
Clearly, the evidence suggests that the problem of workplace mental health is huge, and one that can be no longer swept under the carpet. That’s why, as an employer, it’s your duty to ensure you do all you can to safeguard the mental wellbeing of your employees.
What Effect Can The Workplace Have on Employee Mental Health?
Employee mental health is a subject we’ll be returning to many times in this blog, hence, this week, we decided to do a straw poll around some colleagues and friends, to get a feel for the view of the average UK employee on how important mental wellbeing is in the workplace, and what a disregard for an employee’s mental health can do.
Quite frankly, we were shocked by the response we got.
Oliver Shaw, a specialist engineer who has worked in both the private sector and education for over a decade, stated the following;
“Mental health awareness for employers is something I care a great deal about as it’s an issue I’ve come across many times in my career in academia. Many educational establishments are under great financial strain, but the pressures are then passed on to the employees. Your workload becomes massively overloaded, you are in constant fear of losing your job to redundancies and are always asked to cut corners, sometimes to the detriment of safety. When you refuse, the dreaded redundancies are held over your head. I have witnessed colleagues leaving the sector time and again thanks to unrealistic goals and workloads that leave no time for a normal life. Fortunately, my current position permits a much more balanced equilibrium, but not everyone is as lucky as me and many people I know are suffering with their mental health simply because of the place they work and the job they do.”
The threat of job insecurity was a common theme amongst many of the people we spoke to, and several of our respondents commented upon how they had become unwell or suffered with depression during times of restructuring, or when redundancies were implemented.
Consider The Impact Of Your Actions On Your Employees
One of our respondents, Josh Hughes, commented on the period immediately following a buy-out of the company he was working for;
“I’d worked for the same employer for over 10 years when they were bought out by a rival company. At first we were assured nothing would change, but it became clear early on that this was not the case. Everything changed and, in the end, almost everyone who had been employed by the business before the take-over was made redundant. That process took 6 months, however, and those 6 months were the most stressful of my life. I even ended up on anti-depressants. I think the worst bit about the whole process though was total lack of concern from our new employers; they never offered any support or showed that they even registered the stress we might be feeling in that situation. OK, these things happen in business, but surely as an employer it’s their duty to support their staff? A little bit of human empathy could have made a world of difference.”
Almost everyone we spoke to was able to relay a story to us of how a certain period in their employment history, such as the above, had caused them to suffer an episode of anxiety or even depression.
However, for those who already have an underlying mental health condition, finding their way and succeeding in the modern workplace can already be tricky enough. Add in the additional strains already touched upon, and it can be a recipe for disaster.
Consider The Existing Mental Health of Your Employees
Dr Tim Hodgkinson, who has similarly spent his working career employed by various education establishments, told us the following;
“I was diagnosed with Aspergers a few years ago and just getting that diagnosis itself was a troubling time for me. Obviously, I’d always known there was something, but this was the first time I’d had a name for it. At the time I was working as a lecturer at a university and carrying out my own research too, so it was a complex time for me, to say the least. I expected and hoped for a little understanding from my employer during a particularly stressful period, however I don’t feel this was forthcoming. In fact, I feel that the lack of empathy and consideration I received only compounded the issue. I’d even go so far as to say that I believe certain individuals were using my mental health against me. I struggled and ended up losing a job and a career path that I cared passionately about. The end result was that my mental health was worse than ever at that point, and it has taken me several years to recover from that. I wouldn’t even say I’m completely recovered now.”
One common theme that came through loud and clear in everyone we spoke to was how precarious mental health can be, and how damaging it can be to a person if someone, especially one who holds a position of authority over you, doesn’t take your mental wellbeing into consideration.
Here at Wellspace, we think this simply highlights how crucial it is for employers to think about the mental health of their employees right from the beginning, and not to simply think of them as a ‘human resource’.
What Can Employers Do To Safeguard Their Employee’s Mental Health?
Obviously, this is a massive subject, so we’re going to come back to it in a future blog post with some more in-depth instructions to help employers get it right.
However, the words of Geoff McDonald, a mental health campaign and former Vice President for HR at Unilever, are useful here;
“There is no point helping organisations address the stigma of depression, anxiety, bipolar and other mental illnesses if you don’t advise them what to do; but there is also no point in advising organisations what to do, if there is a stigma linked to mental illness within the organisation.”
Essentially, employers need to just take the first step by addressing the issue, starting to talk about it, bringing it out into the open. Just like we are doing as a country now.
Once we have begun to address the issues surrounding mental health, and we are all able to discuss them without stigma and without being treated as inferior or unworthy for having suffered from mental health issues, then we can begin to put in place proper systems and processes that will ensure our employees do not suffer unnecessary at our hands.
After all, this is not simply people’s jobs; this is their lives. Mental health impacts on themselves, their home and family life, their ability to do their job and therefore their productivity at work and ultimately your bottom line. It effects the number of days they are in work and the amount of work you get out of them when they are at work. It’s just common sense that you, as an employer, want to tackle this head on and get it right, first time.
As we’ve already mentioned, we’ll be coming back to this subject many more times in the future. However, if you’d like to find out more in the meantime, you can contact the Wellspace team at any time. Our range of trained professionals are experts in their fields, so have a wealth of knowledge at their fingertips.
Wellspace provide apps and tech that enables employers to better benefit their employees, in a number of ways. Whatever employee wellness or HR issue you’re facing, Wellspace can help.
Contact us today by using the contact form on the website or phone us on 0808 178 0748.