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How to improve the wellbeing in your workplace

Boost productivity, reduce recruitment costs and attract the best talent by creating a more positive work environment.

In the past decade, the stigma surrounding mental health has started to break down. Information about mental health issues is widely distributed, and more and more public figures are speaking openly about their own mental health struggles. Yet, conversations about mental health in the workplace remain taboo. Employees often feel unable to open up to their colleagues, let alone their line manager, for fear of how it could impact their reputation or opportunities for career advancement.

The findings of the UK’s largest survey of mental wellbeing at work, conducted from 2016 to 2018, highlights that while employers are increasingly taking an active role to support mental health in the workplace, there is still a huge amount that needs to be done.

The 2018 results revealed:

  • Just 16 percent of employees feel able to disclose a mental health issue to their manager, and
  • Less than half of employees believed that their organisation does well in supporting those with mental health issues.

The results are staggering, given that around one in seven people are experiencing some kind of mental health problem at work.

Putting the human cost aside, the economic impact is considerable. More than 15 million work days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in the UK in 2017/2018, while studies suggest the cost of presenteeism from mental ill health – people turning up to work but performing far below capacity – costs the economy almost twice as much as employee absence.

The Benefits

The economic argument for being pro-active is a no-brainer. According to the Mental Health Foundation, better mental health support can save UK businesses up to £8 billion per year.

Other benefits include reduced absenteeism and presenteeism, higher productivity, better retention rates, and improved customer service.

Also, at a time when unemployment in the UK is at a record low and companies are struggling to fill vacancies, a more supportive workplace will set your company apart from your competitors as an employer of choice.

While every business needs to create a plan based around their individual circumstances, here are 4 key principles for an effective workplace wellbeing policy.

1. Start at the Top: Executive Buy-In

You can run as many awareness events as you like – it won’t make a bit of difference if your company’s executives are not genuinely committed. CEOs and managers need to lead by example: talking about their own personal experiences, showing they value work-life balance by not eating lunch at their desk or firing off emails after hours, and taking full holiday leave.

Start by appointing a mental health ambassador among senior staff, and within each department or sector.

2. Develop a Plan

This will be the framework for your new workplace wellbeing policy, or an opportunity to review whether your existing policy is effective.

Points to consider:

  • What support is in place for employees struggling with their mental health?
  • If internal support processes exist, are they being effectively promoted and communicated so that everyone is aware of them?
  • Are external support services effectively promoted and communicated?
  • What steps are being taken to reduce the barriers to talking about mental health? e.g. awareness campaigns, management buy-in
  • Is there training available for line managers? (more about this below)
  • Are staff being consulted about how the company can improve?

At Rullion, we have adopted an ongoing programme which includes:

  • Mental health training for managers
  • Regular employee engagement surveys
  • Flexible working
  • In-house mental health awareness campaigns across all stakeholder levels
  • Wellbeing initiatives such as lunchtime yoga

3. Manager Training & Resources

Only 30 percent of line managers have taken part in mental health training, according to Business in the Community’s 2018 Mental Health at Work report. While an improvement on 22 percent in 2016, it shows there is still a long way to go.

Being able to successfully engage with an employee who is having mental health issues – and spotting the signs they are struggling in the first place – is something that requires proper training.

Fortunately, there is plenty of support available for businesses. A good place to start is Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service), which offers training courses for HR professionals and managers, as well as an online guide to help managers deal with staff experiencing mental health issues.

Other helpful resources for managers and HR include the Business in the Community and Public Health England Mental Health Toolkit for Employers, and the Mindful Employer website.

4. Positive workplace culture

Promoting wellbeing in the workplace goes hand-in-hand with a positive workplace culture. These are some of the most important elements:

  • Allowing employees to switch off: encourage everyone to take a full lunch break away from their desk and limit out-of-hours work communication, for example.
  • A can-do workplace: make it easier for staff to remain engaged by setting realistic deadlines and fostering a culture of inclusivity.
  • Be flexible about flexible working: Consider all the options: varying start or finishing times, a combination of remote and in-house working, changing break structures.
  • Emphasis on holistic health: whether its providing free fruit or in-house exercise classes, a partnership with a local gym or Friday afternoon massages, healthy initiatives are a practical way of showing your company cares.
  • Emphasis on open communications: from regular employee surveys and workshops, to ensuring there are breakout spaces where people can relax and chat, the more focus on promoting communications in general, the more likely people will feel able to speak up about mental health.

A Win-Win Strategy

Any effective policy for wellbeing in the workplace will involve a multi-pronged, collaborative and long-term approach. What works best will naturally depend on your company’s individual circumstances and workforce.

However, the rewards – from cost savings to talent attraction – make the effort well worth it.