Workplace mental health is equally important and every employer has a responsibility to look after the health and well-being of their staff at work. This duty often focuses on physical safety, especially in sectors such as utilities and logistics where manual handling and heavy machinery are involved, but it is important to also give due consideration to mental health.
Mental well-being has not always received the attention it deserves. This is particularly the case in male-dominated workplaces or among transient workforces, were talking openly about mental health is not traditionally common. However, there is a growing awareness that this is a trend that needs to be challenged.
With the pandemic having reframed the conversation around mental health, forward-thinking employers in every industry are looking for ways to introduce new and improved measures to ensure that staff get the support they need in 2023 and beyond. Here, we will explain the reasons why, while looking at some of the steps that businesses can take.
Why 2023 is a year for action on workplace mental health
As we head into 2023, there is little doubt that workplace mental health has become a much more pressing issue in recent years. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 15% of working-age adults were estimated to have a mental disorder as of 2019. Overall, it is estimated that 12 billion workdays are lost annually due to depression and anxiety, costing the global economy nearly $1 trillion.
The causes of stress, and anxiety are plenty to hamper workplace mental health, with some of the most common including:
- Excessive workloads
- High-pressure environments
- Workers’ dissatisfaction with their performance or the performance of others
- A lack of managerial support
- Bad relationships with managers and colleagues
- Overlong working hours
- Uncertainty and upheaval in the workplace
- Violence, threats or intimidation in the workplace
Research carried out for Lanes Group’s 2019 whitepaper, “The Current State Of Mental Wellbeing In UK Workplaces”, offered further evidence of these trends. A survey of more than 1,000 working adults showed that:
- 80% of respondents said they are required to work outside of their contracted hours
- 22% have had to take time off work due to stress during their careers
- 27% do not feel able to speak to their manager about mental health issues
As high as some of these figures are, these trends have only gotten worse since the start of the pandemic The WHO estimates that COVID-19 triggered a 25% increase in general anxiety and depression worldwide, with workers across all industries experiencing stress, upheaval and uncertainty during the lockdowns, whether due to the risk of losing their jobs or the pressures of working from home in relative isolation.
Since then, the workplace mental health crisis is only deepening, due to the cost of living crisis, the looming recession and broader anxieties about the war in Ukraine and the climate emergency. This is driving thousands of people out of the workforce, with analysis from Sky News showing that levels of economic inactivity among the long-term sick jumped by 537,500 between the year to June 2019 and the year to June 2022, of which 454,300 can be attributed to mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.
With the number of employed people with long-term mental health conditions also rising by 816,400 over the same period, it is clear that the importance of mental health in the workplace needs to be at the forefront of conversations about how companies can better support their workforce.
How employers can better support their staff’s mental health
Amidst the rising prevalence of mental health conditions, current workplace support policies are proving insufficient to prevent the mental health crisis from spiralling. As such, employers must get creative about revamping their mental health policies for supporting mental health in the workplace and better addressing the challenges that today’s workers are facing.
Here are just a few of the ways in which employers can create a more supportive working environment that promotes mental health at the workplace:
- Ensure that managers and HR professionals are educated on understanding mental health challenges, including how to recognise the signs of anxiety, depression and burnout in the workforce
- Appoint designated mental health champions and mental health first aiders in the office to provide a supportive point of contact for those who are struggling
- Provide a defined and compassionate pathway for people experiencing mental health crises to reduce their workloads or take time off work, including a process for allowing them to return to work in a supportive way
- Be flexible with working hours and remote working opportunities, allowing staff members to achieve a better work-life balance
- Encourage staff to take time for themselves, whether this means providing a well-equipped designated break area for on-site workers, or making sure that staff members are not routinely working longer than their contracted hours
- Make greater efforts to recognise your staff’s achievements, foster a better team spirit and show them that their contributions are meaningful and valued
- Reflect on your mental health policies and approach to inclusion in your recruitment and induction processes, to ensure that new workers understand how the business will support them
- Have open conversations with your staff members to find out what they feel they need from you in terms of mental health support, and develop your policies around this feedback
Additionally, there are various benefits and incentives that companies can provide to deliver a happier and more harmonious work environment, such as:
- Organising or providing wellness-centric perks through the company, such as gym memberships, physiotherapy services and yoga classes
- Provide healthy food and drink options in the workplace to encourage a healthier lifestyle
- Run sessions and courses in mental health, mindfulness and related topics, to help educate the entire workforce and encourage them to communicate more openly about their mental wellbeing
- Scheduling regular social events, activities, team getaways and coffee mornings to foster team bonding and give staff an opportunity to socialise
These are just a few examples of the kinds of interventions that can make a big difference to your staff. Above all, it is vital to recognise that this is an area that requires improvements and commit to reviewing or revamping your mental health policies to ensure they are fit for purpose in 2023.
Ultimately, it is the responsibility of employers to support staff with action, rather than just with tick-box exercises. By leading by example to create a genuinely inclusive culture and training all their staff in mental health awareness, businesses across all sectors can help their workers to be accountable for their health, gain confidence to open up and show vulnerability, and ultimately feel better in themselves, while giving others the confidence to do the same.