What is the current state of the nation’s mental health?
We have such a spread of individuals with varying mental health circumstances and demands.
There have been a couple of big changes in recent years, accelerated by the Covid pandemic, including the importance of the mental health and wellbeing of employees. The focus on mental health in the workplace was gaining a lot of traction before the pandemic, but the lockdown experience really accelerated people’s awareness of mental health issues and the need to support individuals at work.
The stigma of talking about mental health is being removed and many more individuals feel comfortable talking to their colleagues or manager about any issues they have, but there is more work to be done to ensure everyone feels safe in their work environment to discuss their health.
Mental health now sits firmly on the boardroom agenda of most organisations across the country. Business leaders are understanding that the support they provide and the tools they give their employees to improve their mental wellbeing has a positive effect on them and those that work for them.
With the impact of social media and social anxieties on the increase among younger generations, combined with the challenges around the cost-of-living crisis and the Ukraine war, times are worrying for everybody across the country. So, there’s a balance between two pieces here – a positive step forward in our awareness of mental health and removing stigma around talking about it, versus the very challenging environment that we’re all living in.
What is the impact of poor mental health in the workplace?
Most adults spend the majority of their time at work, so creating an environment that is emotionally safe and secure, and one where individuals can share their thoughts and fosters the right type of culture, is essential. Business leaders understand that if you’re fostering the right type of culture and you have an environment where people want to work for you and feel safe, you’re going to have a happier and more productive workforce.
Providing the right type of support for mental health and wellbeing has become important to business leaders, but one size doesn’t fit all. Organisations need to understand the requirements of their own businesses and how they then put solutions in place that are tailored and right for the individual. This includes the culture they want to foster and the type of environment they want to be working in. These factors add some complexity, and it’s not as easy as just addressing it with one simple solution.
What can employers do to support the mental wellbeing of their workforces?
It starts with leadership. First and foremost, you have to have buy-in and commitment at the top of the business. Supporting mental wellbeing must be an important part of what leadership teams want to build and how they want to support their people.
Business leaders then need to understand the needs and requirements of their employees. This is different for every business and workforce, so implementing a tailored mental health policy and strategy is important for delivering the support employees need, and ensuring they remain present and engaged.
Part of developing a policy and strategy is undertaking a mental health audit. Bring in experts that have experience in workplace mental health, to help understand the demands and pressures of your workforce, and the culture you’re trying to foster. The results of this audit will enable business leaders to make informed decisions about the type and level of mental health support they should put in place, and also how best to measure the success of it.
How can industry and sector partnerships support employers in doing this?
There are many types of mental health and wellbeing services on the market for businesses to choose from. And in most cases, businesses use a mix of services from multiple providers. For example, they may have private medical insurance which gives access to services, or an existing employee assistance programme that offers education and content information. We work with a range of partners to support business leaders in getting the right support for their workforce. Sharing insights and best practice enables us to better support individuals through referrals and assessment to treatment and recovery.
How can data be used to inform decisions?
If you’ve got mental health services and solutions in place, and if individuals are receiving treatment and therapy support, businesses should be able to access data analytics and insights about how mental health care services are benefiting their workforce, of course whilst also being careful to protect the privacy of the individual.
It’s one thing putting the services in place, but there’s also a need to monitor how those services are used and what the data is telling you about what they are delivering.
Consider what the data and information tells you about your employee workforce overall, where people are receiving support, and how successful this support is. Businesses should use data to inform their mental health policy and adapt strategies as and when required.
What are the implications of getting this wrong?
The dangers are that organisations can invest in employee benefits solutions and provisions without really knowing how they’re going to measure them or what impact they’re going to have. Without those fundamental pieces of governance in place, you could just be putting money into services without a real knowledge of the benefits to the health of your workforce.
Where does mental health support fit in with wider wellbeing support in workplaces?
They’re intrinsically linked. If you think about mental health and physical health, physical health has always been years ahead in terms of the awareness, support and services in place at work to help individuals.
It’s only more recently that businesses have been looking at the mental health of employees in a similar way, and the link between the two is obviously clear. Wellbeing services should include both in equal measure, depending on the pressures and demands of the workforce.
What is the current level of demand for mental health support at work and how do you expect that to change going forward?
The demands for mental health support are growing and have been for a number of years now. Stigma is being removed and people are more willing to seek help, which is a really positive move forward. However, there’s ongoing pressure on the NHS and, more than ever, we’re seeing people reaching out and wanting support from community-based services within the NHS.
May more individuals will be turning to their employers for support, so there’s a responsibility as a good employer to have a mental health policy and provision of support in place to help individuals when they require it.
I don’t think the demand is going to diminish any time soon and that’s where it becomes really important for an employer to understand they’re giving employees the right and most valuable support, both from the perspective of easy access to support, and delivering the right outcomes for those that are using them.