Why Employee Wellbeing Means More Than EAPs
Despite the increased awareness surrounding mental ill-health and the growing media attention that has facilitated positive discussions and campaigns such as Mind’s Time to Change campaign, the numbers of those reporting mental health conditions in the workplace continue to grow. Ngozi Weller explores why we need a more hands-on approach to wellbeing in our workplaces.
The Cost of Inaction
Since the 2017 publication of the government-commissioned Stevenson and Farmer review on mental health and employers, organisations have become increasingly aware of the impact that employee mental health can have on workplace wellbeing and productivity.
Mental health problems in the UK workforce cost employers up to £42 billion in 2017, including £8 billion in sickness absence and £8 billion in staff turnover. 3 in every 5 employees experience mental health issues because of work and 31% of the UK workforce is formally diagnosed with a mental health condition. Stress, depression and anxiety are among the top causes for employee sickness absences.
Building on the Thriving at Work recommendations, this will require an honest appraisal of employers’ attitudes to poor mental health, the help that is available, and how best practice can be embedded in organisations of all sizes across the UK.
Awareness Is Not Enough
However increased awareness has not led to a significant reduction in the negative impact of common mental health disorders (CMDs) at work. That is despite most companies introducing a range of formalised support services to help, such as mental health champions and Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). In fact, when Deloitte published their 2020 report re-examining the case for investment in this area, it found that the costs of poor mental health to UK employers have increased by 16%, now costing up to £45 billion.
The problem is, for the most part, these services require the person struggling to reach out for help when they are at their most vulnerable and least able to do so. I know this from personal experience. I was officially signed off from my work in the Oil & Gas sector having been diagnosed with work-related stress and anxiety leading to depression, despite the fact that my company had an active EAP. They would surely have helped if I had contacted them, but I didn’t since I hadn’t recognised that I was actually unwell, and most importantly, neither had my manager.
Few are trained or equipped in dealing with mental ill-health, yet as those on the front line of people management, line managers are the key to improving workplace wellbeing. That is why we need to move from a reactive to a more proactive system of support for mental health in the workplace.
The Right Environment
The first step is to create an environment that supports open and honest conversations around workplace mental health. It is imperative to establish psychological safety for all involved. Employees need to feel that they can approach managers or colleagues freely and without judgement or negative consequence. And in turn, managers need to feel secure in the knowledge that they too will be supported and signposted to further help when required.
Easier Said Than Done
But that is often easier said than done. Many managers find it difficult to know how to broach the subject of poor mental health with an employee who is struggling and worry that they might make things worse. The reality is that if the first time that you mention mental wellbeing with your teams is when one of them is struggling, you are already too late. The key here is to take a proactive approach to wellbeing:
- Make an effort to know your team: have regular one to ones which put wellbeing at the top of the agenda.
- Lead by example: demonstrate healthy work practices by making your own wellbeing a priority too.
- Manage workloads, duties and responsibilities equitably: to ensure that everyone has opportunities to work reasonably and productively.
- Model an empathetic management style: so that your team know that you are approachable and that you care.
It is only by having the difficult conversations, sharing stories and showing real empathy and understanding that you can start to make meaningful strides towards meeting your employees’ wellness needs.
At Aurora Wellness we are all about mental wellbeing & productivity. To discover ways in which you can empower your people and maximise their full potential, contact us for information about our face to face and online mental wellbeing and productivity programmes.