NEWS Mental Health and the Onus on Businesses to Do More: Mental Health Awareness Month

Across the UK, as central and devolved governments make decisions regarding the future of mask wearing, testing and so forth, millions of employees have returned to the office on a full-time basis but a large proportion of workers now find themselves working in a hybrid fashion.

According to a McKinsey survey, roughly one in three workers back in the workplace suggest the return to the office has negatively impacted their mental health. Furthermore, those who experienced a decline in mental health following a return to the office said they were five times more likely to reduce their amount of workplace responsibility, negatively impacting business operations.

Employers, evidently, play a major role in the mental health maintenance of their staff. Dr Eileen Anderson Fye, director of Education, Bioethics, and Medical Humanities at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine noted: “Thankfully we are seeing improvements in many workplaces in supporting people who deal with mental health challenges, but some are refusing to budge, holding onto an outdated, one size fits all model.”

Dr Anderson Fye added: “people with social anxiety tend to thrive in workplaces with flexible options such as remote or hybrid set-ups.”

With April being Mental Health Awareness Month, we take a look at the impact the current working environment is having, and what employers can do to support staff in the workplace of the future.

A hybrid working induced mental health pandemic

A BBC article in early January opened with “a part-remote, part office schedule has been hailed as the future of work. Yet in this hybrid set-up, some employees have never been so tired.”

A Tinypulse survey detailed that 80 per cent of people leaders reported that a hybrid set-up was exhausting for employees. Additionally, workers were reported to be more emotionally taxed when working partly at home, partly in the office than fully remote staff – and, perhaps, even more worryingly than full-time office based-workers.

Elora Voyles, industrial organisational psychologist at Tinypulse, suggested: “Disruption to employees’ daily routine – and the staccato nature of hybrid – is what workers finds so tiring.” In contrast, she went on to add: “a predictable, consistent routine can help with feelings of stress and uncertainty – especially during a pandemic.”

Did you know that 20% of UK workers reported difficulties switching off from work, noting that they always ‘feel on’?

More than 7 in 10 UK employees pushed through a mental health struggle to avoid taking time off in the three months since the turn of the year according to a report by BetterUp Labs.

Despite a lull in work-related stress searches online prior to Christmas, Google searches for terms relating to work-induced anxiety and stress boomed in the New Year period, with an average of 6,810 monthly searches in January and February (Google).

The keyword phrase ‘work-related stress’ alone averages 2,900 monthly searches in the UK, up 21% YoY. While there is no certainty as to what has caused this increase, it could be proposed that the introduction of the new hybrid working approach has played a part.

Your business has a duty to protect its employees’ mental health

The reasons your business should be supporting and safeguarding your employees’ mental health are countless.

Firstly, more employees than ever before are leaving their jobs for mental health reasons. 68 per cent of millennials and 81 per cent of Gen Zs have left roles, both voluntarily and involuntarily, for mental health reasons, in comparison to 50 per cent of overall respondents – a particularly alarming statistic for employers who are failing to support their staff, considering that 75 per cent of the global workforce will be millennials by 2025.

Additionally, 91 per cent of people believe that a company’s culture should support mental health – up from 86 per cent in 2019.

As you can expect then, failing to introduce appropriate mental health measures will, inevitably, impact your business’ ability to recruit top tier talent.

Mental health absenteeism also has a major impact on employees and employers alike – more than £14bn is associated with lost productivity due to mental health each year.

How does your business ensure that it is creating an environment that supports mental health?

Firstly, is your business sending a clear message to your staff that mental health matters? Explain to employees that mental health will be treated in a similar fashion to physical health and approached with the utmost respect.

By establishing an open, supportive culture, staff should eventually feel more comfortable and confident discussing their concerns. This needs to be well signposted within the business, however, otherwise your attempts may be in vain.

Mind details things businesses can do in order to support their staff. These include:

  • Flexible hours
  • Alteration to workplace set-up
  • Creation of quiet spaces
  • On call support and regular catch-ups when working from home
  • Supportive return to work policies – including gradual build-up and a phased return

The mental health charity goes on to add that employers can also do the following:

  • Offer reallocation of tasks or amend job descriptions
  • Provide training and support that facilitates secondment
  • Introduce more positive and constructive feedback
  • Create mental health support groups
  • Provide self-help information and material

When tendering to the public sector, social value is becoming a staple of decision making and can massively impact your business’ chances of being successful. Within the social value model, a number of points refer to the improvement and maintenance of mental health, whether that be internally or in the community, highlighting just another reason why, in this Mental Health Awareness Month, the onus is on businesses to ensure they’re doing their best to support their staff.

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Apr 05, 2022.

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