Two years ago, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry launched their Heads Together campaign to end the stigma around mental health. Working in partnership with charities and celebrities they have made significant progress in changing the national conversation on mental wellbeing.
While this has certainly helped to put the issue centre stage within society, there is still some work to be done to remove the stigma around mental ill health in the workplace.
According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), 12.5 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2016/17. During the same period, more than 500,000 workers stated that they were suffering from these conditions. GPs also report that symptoms of stress are on the increase in the UK with the majority of GPs (85%) reporting a rise in number of patients presenting with stress, anxiety and depression over the last five years according to a survey by Royal London.
BUPA also reported last month that mental health issues are now a larger concern than physical ailments for many UK companies and that 41% of UK businesses are observing higher rates of mental illness compared to five years ago.
These latest findings confirm that if organisations want to better support their employees and truly embed a positive approach to workplace wellbeing, they need to treat mental health in the same way as they do physical health and demonstrate from day one that the organisation recognises the importance and value of mental wellbeing. Actively addressing mental health in this way will not only benefit businesses financially by reducing the costs associated with absenteeism and presenteeism but also reputationally as they are recognised as a caring and ethical employer.
If organisations want to better support their employees and truly embed a positive approach to workplace wellbeing, they need to treat mental health in the same way as they do physical health and demonstrate from day one that the organisation recognises the importance and value of mental wellbeing.
Leading by example
A healthy workplace culture is one that encourages employees to seek support for mental health issues without the fear that they will be judged or that their career will be negatively impacted. This requires sponsorship and endorsement from senior leadership with high profile individuals in the organisation modelling positive and open attitudes towards mental health.
This has been done very effectively, and publicly, by Lloyd’s CEO, Antonio Horta-Osario, who has spoken frankly about his own challenges with mental health. In doing so, he has clearly demonstrated his commitment and dedication to changing the corporate mindset on mental health.
But it’s not just about leadership from the top. Those organisations that address mental health most successfully have in place a network of mental health champions, who come from all levels of the organisation, to share their experiences and raise awareness of the issues around mental ill health.
It’s a whole-organisation responsibility
Addressing workplace mental health may start with senior management but positively changing attitudes is a whole-organisation responsibility. Every person that works in the organisation has a role to play in creating a culture of openness and acceptance around mental health.
It’s about building and establishing a supportive workplace environment which means that when an employee does face an issue or has concerns around how they are coping, they are comfortable approaching their manager to get the help and support they need.
Clear signposting to help and support
While the majority of work-related stress is attributed to workload, around 1 in 7 people, however, say it is due to lack of support. The BUPA research also found that more than half of the companies surveyed said that they did not know how to support employees with mental health.
According to The Work Foundation, Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) are the most popular workplace wellbeing initiative offered in the UK, with more than 14 million employees having access to an EAP via their employer.
The disparity is largely due to a lack of awareness of the help and support that is already available to employees, particularly when it comes to EAP services and a lack of understanding around what an EAP is and how it can help but also employee concerns about confidentiality.
If employers are serious about creating mentally healthy workplaces, a good first step is to dispel the myths around EAPs, making employees aware that any discussions are private and confidential and will not be shared with an employer. Employers should also find interesting ways to inform and educate employees about the range of issues covered by an EAP, whether it’s financial worries, relationship issues or dealing with stress at work.
If EAP take-up is low, organisations could consider hosting regular EAP awareness and mental health education sessions or creating events or communications that tie in with key wellbeing campaigns such as Mental Health Awareness Week.
Training for managers
Well-trained line managers can have a powerful and positive impact in promoting and sustaining good mental health at work. So, ensuring that line managers are properly trained in mental first aid to enable them to spot the triggers and early warning signs, as well as deal with difficult and challenging conversations is vital. Ongoing coaching and guidance for line managers is also essential to help them become confident in having practical and engaging conversations around mental health with their teams.
It also helps if managers have a better understanding of the EAP and other support services available so that they can communicate this to their teams and signpost more effectively when needed. By improving knowledge around the services available, managers can help to increase usage and mitigate potential mental health issues from escalating to the level of requiring clinical intervention and time away from work.
Make better use of your EAP
EAPs offer far more than counselling services for employees and the Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA) would encourage employers to talk to their EAP providers about how they can support their organisation’s mental health strategy. EAP providers can also work with employers to develop tailored communications and education sessions, as well as provide line manager training and coaching in mental health first aid.
Organisations that take this type of holistic view to workplace mental health, investing time in education and awareness programmes will see the positive impact of employee wellbeing on the organisation through improved productivity and fewer days lost to mental ill health.
With Mental Health Awareness Week taking place, it’s the perfect opportunity to review your wellbeing strategy and think about what more we can all do to remove the stigma around workplace mental health and move towards a culture of acceptance.
You can get further advice and information about how an EAP can support your wellbeing strategy at eap.org.uk.