According to recent reports, one in every four people suffers from mental health issues at work, such as stress, anxiety and depression, with poor mental health cited as the highest cause of sick leave, ranked above Covid-19 in 2021.
Why are the numbers so high?
It would appear that there has been a sharp rise in the number of people reporting mental health problems in the workplace. Much of this increase can be directly attributed to pandemic-related issues such as stress caused by burnout, depression and loneliness from the isolation of remote working, or anxiety about returning to the office. Added to this, many people also suffer from stress and anxiety caused by financial pressures as the cost-of-living crisis continues.
However, the rise in reported mental health issues may also indicate a positive shift in workplace attitudes. It may well be that many workers have always suffered from mental health issues, but they have not felt comfortable reporting them due to the stigma which has generally surrounded mental health in the past.
Problems facing employers
With the rising mental health issues comes increased pressures for employers. Not only do workers who are off sick with mental health disorders leave companies short-staffed, but presenteeism also creates problems where employees suffering a mental health crisis can struggle to be productive and engaged, all of which negatively affects productivity and, in turn, impacts company profits. According to a recent Bloomberg article, British workers taking time off for mental health-related illness cost employers around £43 billion in 2021 alone.
Added to this, businesses yet to embrace a culture of awareness and support for mental health can also expect a backlash in terms of staff retention and recruitment of new candidates. As reported in our blog on employee benefits, around 50% of workers are prepared to move jobs to improve their wellbeing, and a recent report from the US found that as many as 8 in 10 employees said that how employers support their staff's mental health will be an important consideration when they seek future job opportunities.
With the war for talent still in full swing, many workers who feel unhappy in their work or unsupported by their current employer are no longer afraid to quit their job even if they don't have a new one lined up. They are aware that it is a 'candidates' market', and they would prefer to seek employment with a company that will consider their mental health needs. This might not be the case for much longer, as fears of a recession on the horizon could cause the market to swing the other way, which could cause candidates to stay with their current employers longer.
What can companies do to support workers?
Several initiatives organisations are implementing to support workers include access to in-house mental health first aiders, counselling, career coaches and life coaches. This can consist of providing the actual experts and allowing employees time off for consultations. Other initiatives organisations are implementing form part of their wellbeing strategies. They include partnerships with gyms, and access to nutritionists, to maintain a healthy mind and body.
The key to the success of any initiative, however, is to ensure they are not stand-alone gestures; instead, organisations need to recognise that they must form part of robust company policies. Having a cohesive approach to Mental Health, D,E&I and CSR policies is now considered to improve employee wellbeing and job satisfaction, especially amongst underrepresented groups such as LGBTQIA+, women or black communities, which in turn can both support those with mental health issues, allowing them to return to work sooner and also reduce instances of poor mental health occurring or becoming severe in the first place.
Unfortunately, mental health issues can affect anyone at any time and, as the statistics suggest, not having anyone with poor mental health in an organisation is extremely unlikely. Coming out of denial is the first step in the right direction which can immediately start to change company culture and attitudes towards mental health, helping to improve the workplace experience for those suffering.
Other common myths are that only those with a diagnosis need support or that employees don't want to talk about mental health and won't be offered support. This outdated view can hold companies back regarding their wellbeing provision. As mentioned above, HR policy around this subject is something for which people are prepared to move jobs. According to a recent Deloitte study, mental health is a top priority amongst Gen Z and millennial job seekers. They are not only happy to be supported when they need it but expect a culture which encourages open discussion about mental health.
Companies who are prepared to support the mental health of their staff will not only be fulfilling their social responsibility to provide an inclusive work environment, but they are also likely to improve their recruitment and retention, as well as reduce their costs for absenteeism.
While the increased pressures of a post-covid lifestyle and a struggling economy are harming mental health in the workplace, the recent increase in cases also hopefully suggests that organisations, and society as a whole, are perhaps becoming more sensitive and accepting of mental health issues, meaning that employees now feel that they can speak up and get the help they need.
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