With direct access to work emails on our personal phones and laptops, it can be incredibly hard to “switch off” and leave work-at-work. Our always-connected world can have a serious impact on employees’ psychological health and may leave them unhappy, dissatisfied, or disengaged. These unhappy employees are more likely to be unproductive, secure employment elsewhere, or become sick or injured.
The UK economy loses over £8 billion per year due to absences caused by mental ill health. There is a financial impact even when these employees don’t call in as the same report also shows that unproductivity due to psychological problems cost the UK economy over £15 billion a year.
We know that our work environment can have some severe impacts on our happiness and well-being. After all, most of us spend over 35 hours a week at the office. So, it should come as no surprise that work programs and even attitudes within the workplace can directly impact our well-being. Research from the Mental Health Foundation reveals that 86% of people believe their employer has an vital role in safeguarding and promoting positive mental health.
Companies have a responsibility to ensure that employees have the support they need to be their most productive and happiest selves.
Practical Steps for Promoting Positive Mental Health
Here at Change Recruitment, we’ve taken steps to create a culture of positive mental health and protect employee well-being. Deborah Gillespie, HR Manager, explained:
“We realise that our employees have pressures, in both their work and personal lives, so want to offer as much support as we can to help them manage the day-to-day and perform at the highest level possible. As such, we’ve implemented many initiatives to ensure employees have access to emotional support as well as private health care and discounted gym memberships.
When it comes to mental health, it’s been a big year. We have supported SAMH as our sponsored charity since January and they’ve visited our offices several times over the past few years to give all staff informative and pragmatic advice on mental health. We’ve also recently upgraded our private medical scheme to a more interactive and accessible scheme for our demographics and introduced our employee assistance programme in April -- feedback on our EAP has been excellent. We’ve even recently ran Mindfulness workshops for all employees. We really care about ensuring our employees’ maintain positive mental health”.
From supporting local mental health charities to providing incentives for working out, there are many ways that companies, of all sizes, can protect and promote employees’ psychological well-being.
Address Mental Health Stigmas
The first and perhaps one of the most essential steps to protecting employees’ well-being is by addressing mental health stigmas. Within Western society, and thus workplaces, many people harbour conscious or even unconscious perceptions about mental illness. This negative stigma makes it hard for employees to be open and honest about any psychological problems. They worry that by telling co-workers or their boss that they’re struggling to cope, they’ll be admitting a weakness and lose respect within the workplace. National charity See Me reports that 48% of people are afraid to tell their employer about mental health issues as they’re worried they’ll be made redundant.
The Scottish Association of Mental Health, a national charity that addresses a broad spectrum of mental health issues – from recovery to prevention, are attempting to challenge these notions with their Open Up campaign. The Open Up campaign is relatively simple in concept as it aims to encourage conversations about mental health. By talking about our stresses and problems, either to a friend or colleague, SAMH hopes to change how we think about mental health. So, disclosing a psychological problem, instead of being a sign of weakness, will be a regular occurrence.
You can get involved in SAMH’s Open Up campaign by signing up for one of their lunch and learn workshops. These workshops aim to help employers understand the charity’s mission, how to define mental health, stigmas and discrimination that exist at work, and ways to maintain positive mental health. Hosting one of these workshops is an excellent way to start creating a corporate culture that actively promotes and protects employees’ wellbeing.
Run Mindfulness Workshops
Most people only have some awareness of basic techniques for coping with stress and ill mental health. One in four people in the UK will experience some form of psychological problem during their lifetime. Mindfulness workshops can equip staff members with skills they can use to enhance their personal as well as professional lives. In general, these workshops are intended to provide tips and techniques to help employees stop over analysing about the past or worrying about upcoming deadlines so they can exist in the present moment and cope better with the stresses of day-to-day life.
We recently ran an Introduction to Mindfulness course targeted at helping employees achieve the ideal work/life balance. Employees have had some positive feedback on these workshops, here’s what they had to say:
I came away with a lot of good ideas for better managing stress levels, which I’ve no doubt will assist me both personally and professionally. Time well spent!
I have been using all the tips since and feel it is helping me in different situations at work and at home.
If you’d like to start hosting mindfulness workshops, there are some fantastic local organisations. National charities, like Mind and SAMH, and local companies, like Mindful Edinburgh, run group workshops designed to boost individuals’ health, reduce stress, and enhance overall well-being. Alternatively, you can also organise for employees to undertake one-on-one mindfulness workshops with trained practitioners.
Encourage a Better Work-Life Balance
It’s essential for employees to have a work-life balance. Research and recent media reports have revealed some grave side effects from not allowing employees to achieve a work-life balance. For example, many Japanese firms have faced scrutiny after working employees to the point of death, something that’s so imbued in Japanese culture that they have a term for it – karoshi (death from overwork).
Research has shown that employees that work more than 55 hours a week have a higher risk of coronary heart disease and stroke (the leading cause of karoshi). It also impacts their mental health as employees working more than 55 hours a week are 1.66x more likely to be depressed or 1.74x more likely to have anxiety issues than employees working less than 40 hours. Overwork also has significant impacts on employees’ relationships meaning that when they start to experience physical or psychological problems, they don’t have a support network to turn to.
While employees work-life balance in the UK is not as severe as in Japan, a recent report from YouGov shows that 21% of 25 to 34 year-olds are unhappy with their work-life balance and 41% report that they’re expected to work outside their contracted hours.
Protecting employees’ well-being also means ensuring that they achieve and maintain a healthy work-life balance. As such, employers need to create a culture that actively discourages overwork whether it be through official employment policies or more subtle means. Flexible or part-time hours are also a fantastic way to help employees achieve a work-life balance as it allows them to choose the hours that work best for them.
Employers benefit too as employees with a healthy work-life balance have higher levels of productivity and feel more satisfied with their job. In a highly-competitive job market, prioritising a work-life balance among your workforce can help you retain and attract some of the best and brightest in your industry.
Bottom Line: A healthy work-life balance is a win-win situation for employees and employers.
Offer an Employee Assistance Programme
An employee assistance program, also known as an EAP, can provide employees with support on personal or professional problems which left unattended might impact their performance or well-being. In other words, EAP programmes offer employees a way to ask for help. Assistance through EAP programmes could include short-term counselling sessions, referrals to more specialist services, and follow-up services for employees and their families.
By addressing these issues early, employees’ productivity and performance are less likely to be impacted by work-related or personal problems. EAP programmes are also proven to decrease absenteeism, turnover rates, and stress levels as well as increase employees’ job satisfaction and loyalty.
Encourage Physical Activity
NHS guidelines recommend that working-aged adults exercise on a daily basis and ultimately get 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise and at least two sessions of strength training each week. When you’re juggling a full-time career and other commitments getting the recommended amount of physical activity can seem nearly impossible.
In addition to a whole host of physical benefits, exercise can also significantly impact our mental health. Research has shown that physical activity notably decreases stress levels, improves our self-esteem, and can have the same impact on depression and anxiety as antidepressants. Some studies suggest that people that exercise daily are 20% to 30% less likely to develop dementia or cognitive problems in old age. It doesn’t take much effort to start feeling the benefits – even a short ten-minute walk has a positive effect on our alertness, mood, and energy.
With so many benefits, it’s crucial for employers to encourage employees to make time to workout. Whether by providing money towards gym memberships, hosting weekly in-office yoga sessions, organising sponsored walks, or providing incentives, there are many ways employers can help motivate employees to achieve better physical health.
At Change Recruitment, we offer employees a private medical scheme, which provides discounts on gym memberships and yoga classes and even the cost of purchasing a bicycle. Once staff are equipped with a way to exercise, we further encourage employees via our partnership with Active Inspiration, a UK-based fitness company. Active Inspiration sets monthly challenges for staff; for instance, going to the gym three days a week, swimming ten laps twice a week, or cycling six miles a week. Employees that meet these goals are rewarded with vouchers for discounts on sporting goods, gym memberships or other fun prizes.
The Benefits of Protecting Employee Mental Well-Being
At Change Recruitment, our efforts to promote and protect employees’ mental well-being have already had some great results. We’ve certainly seen higher staff retention rates with turnover decreasing by 2% within the last 12 months, and this has consistently fallen for the last four years, year on year. We’ve also seen better staff morale and engagement and less long-term sickness absence. Perhaps most importantly, our conversations about mental health have broken down stigmas so now our team can openly discuss any issues before they impact performance and well-being.
We highly recommend that every company prioritise employee mental well-being. Regardless of budget restraints, there’s always something you can do to support good mental health andregardless of budget restraints, find ways to get mental health on the agenda.
Want to work for us? We are expanding our Edinburgh and Glasgow offices and are looking for experienced consultants to join the team. Browse the latest vacancies here.