Supporting employees’ mental health

Linda Aiello explains what HR can do to help stressed or overworked staff

In today's workplaces, employees often see their co-workers more than their closest friends. A recent study found that over a third (35 per cent) of UK employees either arrive early or finish late at work, highlighting just how much time we're collectively spending at work with colleagues. It wasn't always this way. In years gone by, 9 to 5 was the standard for working hours across the nation, but in 2019, only 6 per cent of employees now work these hours. The eight-hour day was introduced to allow for eight hours work, eight hours rest and eight hours recreation, however this rarely occurs in modern society. This puts significant pressure on employees, and means bigger responsibilities for their employers. 

Given that employees are spending more time in the workplace, organisations have a responsibility to monitor changes in their employees’ behaviour, to offer them a safe space to develop, and provide them with somewhere they feel comfortable to address personal issues. 

Mental Health under the microscope 

Despite this, our recent research found that less than half (47 per cent) of UK workers believe their employer is doing enough to support employees with mental health issues. Over a quarter (28 per cent) of respondents can't name a single measure their organisation has put in place to support people in maintaining their mental health. This has to change. 

These statistics tell us that businesses must give greater thought to how they safeguard their employees' mental health. Useful ways to demonstrate this include flexible working initiatives, trained mental health first-aiders, and sanctioned mental health days. The most important asset to any business is its people, and so employee wellbeing should be as much of a priority as profit. 

Understanding employee wellbeing 

If there's one major challenge facing businesses with looking out for their employees, it's that they can't physically be there for them 24 hours a day. It could be said that employees of all levels should be looking out for one another, but business leaders do have a greater responsibility to give extra care and attention to support employee wellbeing. This responsibility should include being aware of common signs of poor mental health: social withdrawal, excessive fears or anxieties and prolonged periods of sadness, among others. As well as being aware of these signs, business leaders must ensure that they put in place programmes that support employees without judgement or prejudice.

Businesses should also look to create a formal structure of wellness and mental health support. This is often essential for employees who might be unsure whether they can speak out or who they should come to with their problems. 

What we're doing

At Salesforce, we're actively encouraging a culture where everyone can be their true selves at work and feel able to admit when they're struggling. We have measures in place, such as providing meditation and wellness rooms on each office floor; flexible working and an Employee Assistance Programme where employees can access the support they need, when they need it. Earlier this year, we also launched a Mental Health First Aider Programme, with in-depth training for a group of employees to be a source of support and guidance which means everyone has access to someone to talk to when they feel like they need it most.

A collective responsibility 

We can no longer dodge the conversation around mental health. It may be a hard conversation to have, but it's crucial to everyone that it's discussed on a regular basis. 

When people are the backbone of our companies, it's so important that they feel like they have our backing and are able to speak up if they need help. While we can't be there 24 hours a day for them, we can all make sure we are aware of the common signs of poor mental health, and have programmes like the Mental Health First Aider Programme in place to provide support that can help make a difference when times feel tough.

Linda Aiello is SVP of international employee success at Salesforce