The mutual benefits of good employee mental health

By Cheryl Bennett

3 minute read

Key takeaways:

  • Research suggests lockdown has had a negative impact on the nation’s mental health
  • Workplaces with high levels of mental wellbeing are more productive
  • With the right help and support most people who develop a mental health problem recover well.

Today is World Mental Health day, an opportunity to better understand mental health and start looking after your own wellbeing. From an employers perspective, mental health has arguably never been more important.

Westfield Health conducted research with 2,000 people earlier this year, and 50% said their health had been negatively affected by lockdown. Of those put on furlough, 56% said their mental health had deteriorated and 61% had financial worries.

Contributing factors were too much alcohol, not enough or poor sleep, little exercise and coping with home schooling.

Policies emphasising the needs of women, young people and those with preschool aged children are likely to play an important part in preventing future mental illness, but what practical steps can you take as an employer, and why is it so important?

Why does it matter?

With strong evidence to suggest that workplaces with high levels of mental wellbeing are more productive, and people living with mental health problems contributing an estimated £226 billion gross value added (12.1%) to UK GDP, employers cannot underestimate the value of mental wellbeing initiatives. But the benefits are more than just financial.

Creating a positive work culture leads to greater employee engagement and loyalty. To be an employer people want to work for, protecting the mental wellbeing of your workforce should be top of the agenda.

What does ‘good mental health’ look like?

Good mental health is characterised by a person’s ability to fulfil a number of key functions and activities. These include the ability to learn, to express and manage a range of emotions, as well as the ability to form and maintain relationships with others.

Those who enjoy good mental health are also better able to cope with change and uncertainty.

How to recognise poor mental health.

Experiences with poor mental health are different for everyone and symptoms can vary from person to person. However, there are signs employers can look out for that will give an indication of an employee’s wellbeing.

Physical symptoms:

  • Conditions such as depression can indirectly cause weight fluctuation and fatigue
  • Extreme anxiety can sometimes manifest as a panic attack.
  • Conditions such as eczema, irritable bowel syndrome and backache can be stress related.

Monitor when people are off with recurring issues and think about if there could be an underlying cause.

Psychological signs can be more difficult to identify, but taking the time to communicate with and get to know your colleagues will make it easier to spot changes in their behaviour.

  • Are they more distracted than usual?
  • Do they appear confused or tearful?
  • Behavioural changes such as anger, aggression, increased absenteeism or risk-taking can also be indications of a mental health issue
  • Signs of excessive drinking.

What can you do to improve your employees’ mental health?

There are a number of practical steps you can take to not only minimise workplace stress, but to help those suffering mental health issues.

Implement a health cash scheme which gives access to GPs online, physiotherapy treatments and counselling, and encourage staff to take regular breaks away from their desks. Getting out in the fresh air is known to be beneficial to mental health.

Crucially, make sure lines of communication are always open. Nurturing a social atmosphere will help with this as it gives people the confidence to interact with others.

To demonstrate your willingness to start a dialogue, consider inviting speakers to talk about stress-management strategies to groups of employees. This will give your staff the tools they need to gauge and improve their own mental wellness, as well as open the door for them to be honest if they are struggling.

Employers should also consider if there are external pressures, such as childcare arrangements, impacting someone’s mental health. If so considerations such as flexible working arrangements can help alleviate anxiety.

If you do suspect someone is suffering, don’t be afraid to ask how they are doing. They may be afraid to admit they are struggling to cope, but starting a conversation is a huge step in the right direction. Be sincere, friendly and talk to them in a private but comfortable space.

With the right help and support most people who develop a mental health problem recover well, but this may include some time off work. This in itself can be a source of stress. Be sensitive to the fact that such employees may develop concerns about job security or worry about what colleagues are saying about them.

If you have an employee who needs some time off, make sure you keep in touch and remember to include them in any social events that are happening. When they feel ready to come back to work, a phased return may help with the transition.

If you would like to discuss the benefits of workplace mental health further, or arrange for one of our experts to run an in-house session with your team, get in touch today.

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