Why it makes business sense to support employees' mental health at work

On World Mental Health Day, Yasmine Mustafa explores what employers can do to nurture staff wellbeing – and the reasons they should

Credit: ROAR

Poor mental health can disrupt a person’s professional life in various ways. As well as impacting their ability to enjoy work and gain fulfilment from everyday tasks, mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety can impact employee productivity.

According to recent figures, workers with fair or poor mental health take around 12 days of unplanned absence per year – significantly more than the 2.5 days the average worker takes. Mental health problems (including absences) are estimated to cost the UK economy a staggering £117.9bn annually, presenting a significant challenge to growth-oriented organisations.

However, it’s not just absenteeism that employees need to worry about. When employees with mental health struggles turn up to work, they may feel less motivated and engaged than their colleagues. Given that highly engaged teams demonstrate 21 per cent greater profitability than average, this lack of motivation can prevent teams from realising their full potential.

Over time, lack of motivation can also push workers to quit their jobs, with 61 per cent of employees looking to switch roles attributing their decision to poor mental health. As such, it’s in employers’ best interests to nurture employee wellbeing and provide workers with the resources to thrive.

Factors affecting employee mental health

A wide variety of factors can negatively impact employee mental health, some of which businesses can mitigate or eliminate. Common factors include:

  • Personal problems. Personal issues such as grief, relationship problems and health concerns.
  • Predisposition to mental health issues. Research suggests that some people may be genetically predisposed to mental health issues, including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and major depression.
  • Work-life balance. Employees burdened with a high workload and little time off may suffer from anxiety, stress, burnout and depression.
  • Lack of self care. Workers who devote themselves to their personal and professional lives without taking time for themselves are at a higher risk of developing mental health issues.
  • An unsupportive work environment. Employers that fail to provide training and development opportunities or praise employees for their successes may negatively impact workplace morale. Offering regular feedback and professional development opportunities will help combat stress, anxiety and other mental health issues.
  • An unsafe work environment. Employees who don’t feel safe at work face high stress and anxiety levels, leading to long-term mental health issues. Such lack of safety is prevalent in sectors such as hospitality and healthcare, where workers are at risk of assault by members of the public. Lone staff may also feel unsafe without the security of a colleague looking out for them.
  • Lack of autonomy. Workers who lack autonomy over their working conditions or responsibilities may feel despondent and depressed over their roles.

Support HR teams can provide

As you can see, there are many reasons employees may develop poor mental health. Fortunately, HR departments can improve employee wellbeing by making them feel safer and more valued. The following tips could help your HR team boost productivity, nurture a better company culture and reduce turnover:

Develop and communicate mental health policies

Draw up a list of clear mental health policies applicable to all employees. Such procedures could include time off for self care, access to mental health support and training, flexible working arrangements, self-care provisions and other accommodations to support employee mental health. Make sure you communicate any changes to all colleagues in your organisation.

Promote a culture of openness

Encouraging workers to voice their mental health concerns without fear of stigma will foster a more welcoming environment and promote robust teamwork. You could, for example, organise a mental health awareness campaign or set up support groups for colleagues feeling isolated or lonely.

Address workplace harassment and other safety issues

Create a safe and welcoming work environment by tackling workplace bullying or harassment. In addition to creating a robust anti-bullying policy, it may be worth investing in panic buttons that send alerts to security teams when employees feel endangered, ensuring help is summoned as quickly as possible. While the likelihood that you’ll need a panic button may seem low, the very existence of a button could improve employees’ mental health by making them feel safer at work.

Legal and ethical considerations

HR professionals must consider the ethical implications of any mental health provisions. As well as making sure employees’ mental health issues remain strictly confidential, you must ensure that workers who seek accommodations or disclose mental health issues are protected from retaliation. Ethical organisations also encourage positive work-life balance and put their employees’ health and wellbeing above everything else. Investing money in mental health provisions may seem costly in the short term, but it could pay dividends in the long term, ensuring colleagues remain happy, safe and ready to help your company thrive.

Yasmine Mustafa is the CEO and co-founder of Roar, a technology company dedicated to cultivating safer workplaces

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