In case you missed it, we’re in the midst of UK Mental Health Awareness Week, and if you didn’t realise, you’re not alone as that’s half the problem where mental wellbeing is concerned. Prioritising mental health should always be high up on your business agenda, but you probably know that already. We live in a world where vague discussions around mental health are more talked about than the weather (OK, perhaps not quite in rainy England…), but once the conversation is finished, does anything really change?
As businesses, it’s easy to talk a good game but do you actually go beyond saying all the right things to ensure not only your workforce but you, as a key decision-maker, are doing OK?
Believe it or not, prioritising the interests of your business above staff well-being, as well as your own, does not deliver higher rates of success. In fact, neglecting the mental wellbeing of your employees is likely to cost your business. Employers have already lost billions of pounds due to employees either taking time off for sickness or being less productive due to their poor mental state...
A few years ago, the government undertook necessary research to review how employers can better support the mental health of its workforce and, by doing so, revealed that the UK was facing a mental health challenge at work – and of course, that was before the Covid-19 pandemic became a harsh reality in each of our lives.
The study concluded that more people are at work with mental health conditions than ever before, with a whopping 300,000 individuals suffering from a long-term mental health problem losing their jobs every year.
The Mental Health Million Project determined that the UK was struggling and rated the mental well-being of those living in the United Kingdom as the worst, compared to other countries in the study, including the USA, Australia and South Africa. It’s clear there’s a problem here, and as employers, it’s our job to support those who work for us as, without them, we’d be closing our doors for the very last time!
1. Motivate and Inspire!
This almost seems too obvious to be true, right? Well, that’s where you’d be wrong. Motivating your team to turn up and give their best selves every day is often where businesses fail – and aspiring to reverse this simple fact could ultimately transform your business. But the buck doesn’t end there.
Motivating yourself to run your organisation to the best of your ability can sometimes be a struggle too. We conducted our own research earlier this year, and we discovered that less than a quarter of businesses felt motivated about reopening. This pandemic has been tough on the majority of businesses, but if you’ve made it to the other side, then that in itself should motivate you to push ahead with all the energy you can muster – you’re almost there! Motivate yourself and once you’ve done that, motivate the rest of your team too!
It's been proven that motivated employees deliver superior work. They are better problem solvers, proactive, more adaptable, creative and are far more customer-centric than those employees who aren't feeling motivated to do great things. A report conducted by indeed revealed that business leaders agree that prioritising worker happiness gives companies a competitive advantage and 96% believed that it makes it easier to retain top talent. It also found that unhappiness takes its toll, with almost 80% reporting that unhappy employees hurt productivity. Yet only 19% of organisations have made workforce wellbeing a strategic priority. Can you see the problem?
2. Be Transparent To Build Trust
It’s true that a lack of transparency results in distrust, and distrust within an organisation typically results in disaster. Being open with your employees and sharing important information is a great way to bolster trust levels that have likely diminished over the past 12 months. With redundancies having their moment in the spotlight and the furlough scheme becoming mainstream, it’s no wonder that relations between employees and employers have begun to crumble.
Keep your employees in the loop, as no one wants to remain in the dark. If your company is facing financial difficulties, be upfront about it. Reassure your workers that you’ll do everything you can to make the business thrive and that saving their jobs is a huge priority for everyone, even those at the top.
Being transparent with your workforce means sharing the good, the bad and the ugly. Nothing gets going faster than the rumour mill, so quell any unpleasant gossip by beating them to it.
The question then is not whether to share but how to do it. There are plenty of effective ways to share information with your staff, including an internal newsletter or a good old-fashioned company townhall.
3. Taboo? Mental Health Is Anything But!
Our research also found that 32% of respondents felt either stressed or worried about reopening their business. So, if almost a third of the key decision-makers that we spoke to feel this way, it’s likely that an even larger portion of your workforce is feeling the same too.
A further 21% felt anxious, which isn’t surprising as anxiety is rife after a year of being locked in our homes. But the issue is that mental health challenges are still not talked about and addressed as much as they should or need to be.
As a business, you must have a tough stance on discrimination full stop, and it’s no secret that those struggling with mental health problems often face discrimination. Fear of being judged and shamed hold employees back from discussing how they feel. When things are problematic at home, employees may well underachieve at work. Being able to approach management, either seeking help or simply explaining a temporary change in performance, can make all the difference.
Yet this rarely happens. If your business fails to support its employees effectively, you need to do a culture overhaul and fast before it’s too late. Strive to create a culture that supports staff to be open and honest about their mental health and watch how your teams start to flourish.
4. Ditch The Rigid Approach and Offer Flexibility
Mental health challenges come with an array of struggles, many of which differ from one employee to the next. Taking a blanket approach is an outdated concept, and employers have learnt to become laxer in recent years – even more so after the Coronavirus outbreak.
Being less restrictive will benefit your employees and, as results, your business too. Allowing some breathing room with working patterns has been encouraged for decades, yet after working remotely for a year, it’s almost become an expectation now.
Ultimately, your organisation should view it like this – a disabled employee would be entitled to reasonable changes to their work duties or patterns to adapt to their disability. Similarly, if employees with mental health challenges require fair adjustments to their working day (perhaps a change to working hours to accommodate medication side effects or therapy sessions), try to make doing so as easy as possible. Treat mental and physical health as equally important, because that's exactly what they are.
5. Enforce A Work-Life Balance
A work-life imbalance more like, with the scales tipping confidently in favour of too much work and not enough living. We’re all guilty of it, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK either.
Technology has changed our lives forever. We’ve welcomed it into our homes, our workplaces and just about everywhere. It’s improved our lives in more ways than we ever imagined. We can order a 3-course meal to our doorstep without even needing to leave the sofa or pay for just about anything with our phones without the need to carry our bank cards.
For businesses, the benefits are really transformational too. We can now run entire organisations without needing to step foot in an office. We can nurture professional relationships without ever needing to meet face-to-face. We can even apply for business funding in less than 5 minutes and have the money in our accounts the same day, thanks to innovative advancements in automated underwriting and the introduction of Open Banking.
Not forgetting the cloud, now a business staple following on from the pandemic and the resulting restrictions. But being able to access anything, anywhere, through one tiny device such as our mobile phones also creates a dangerous inability to truly switch off from work. Sitting in airports and responding to work emails, taking Zoom calls hours after the workday should finish because it’s easy, and our phone was already in our hands. It’s made disconnecting from our professional lives an impossible feat but at what cost?
Your employees will burn out. You could even burn out yourself. And guess what? Employee burnout is a serious mental health problem - it's classified as a mental condition by the World Health Organisation so it's very much a real thing. It's a problem that will incur major organisational costs for your business if you don’t address it now, so take a look at workloads to determine whether your employees are overworked and pressured. Make the changes and provide support to prevent employee burnout costing your organisation.
6. Learn To Recognise Diminished Mental Well-being
Of course, your business will take every step necessary to ensure it's an organisation that promotes a culture where mental health can be comfortably spoken about, but Rome wasn't built in a day.
Managers must be able to recognise mental health problems so that if the situation arises, it can be dealt with correctly, as handling the situation badly can a detrimental effect on both the individual and your business.
Train those in management to spot any important changes, including a difference in behaviour, mood, work output, focus and decision-making. Managers should be able to pick up on any changes as they know their team members more closely than higher management or HR. It’s best to avoid escalating things to a more formal setting so early on, and instead, managers should try to engage their team members and speak to them individually.
There are plenty of ways your business can support its employees, but most importantly, it's about providing support and being understanding when things aren't going perfectly. We're all human, we all face challenges that sometimes get the best of us, but being human is what separates a business with a strong and positive culture, from those that continually let its employees down. Be human. Be Kind. Be the kind of employer competitors wish they could be.
13 May, 2021