Don't overlook the importance of your employees' mental health

Written by
Claire Cusack

10 Oct 2016

10 Oct 2016 • by Claire Cusack

Although the conversations around mental health have begun to reduce stigma and promote understanding, the structures aren’t always in place to support people looking for help and this is often most obvious in the workplace. This is not to say that companies have been ignoring the issue; employee health and wellness are firmly on the agenda for many organisations across the world. However, research shows that employees are still reluctant to speak candidly about mental health problems, fearing that being open about a problem could have a negative impact on their career prospects or relationships with colleagues. 

Nearly five years ago we introduced a comprehensive health and wellbeing programme for our teams at Allianz Worldwide Care to promote the overall health and wellbeing of our employees. This included access to regular health assessments, on-site yoga and massage, blood checks for diabetes, cancer awareness seminars, organic fruit deliveries, organised activities such as rugby together with stress and mindfulness training. 

By framing our programme so that stress-reducing activities go hand-in-hand with medical checks, physical activity and healthy eating initiatives, we are able to show how all aspects of health and wellness have equal importance and are a normal part of our daily lives. By including mental health in our overall employee welbeing strategy, we are helping to engender an environment of openness and understanding. We are confident that this is helping to deal with any hesitancy by employees in speaking frankly about their health issues, including mental health.

What have we done?

We have proactively produced guidelines and training for line managers in promoting mental wellbeing for all and understanding and supporting employees who may be experiencing mental health problems while in the workplace. 

A positive and proactive approach to the promotion of mental wellbeing and prevention and management of mental health problems will reap benefits. Line managers and colleagues are key to promoting a culture that is positive towards mental health and supporting individuals with mental health problems in the workplace. Working in a supportive team that cares about the wellbeing of its members can make a huge difference to the working environment for everyone. 

Creating the right environment and supportive relationships can assist in preventing employees from experiencing work-related mental health problems. For line managers, wellbeing can be achieved through employee engagement across the team and implementing work-life balance initiatives.
However, too often employers make the mistake of treating mental health as a separate issue from general health and wellness or in some cases, they avoid dealing with the issue at all. But physical wellness and mental health are inextricably linked and employers should take a holistic approach to policies and practices that deal with all issues in the wellness spectrum. October 10th marks World Mental Health Day and we will run a week long programme encouraging staff to look after their mental health and we will combine it with a healthy eating and exercise programme.

According to the Office of National Statistics mental health problems such as stress, depression and anxiety accounted for a total of 15.2 million days of work lost due to employee absenteeism in 2013 alone. This statistic in itself is a massive incentive for companies to start speaking out about mental health and creating workplace conditions that foster a sense of wellbeing. 

Since introducing our dedicated health and wellbeing programme at Allianz Worldwide Care we have noticed a reduction in absenteeism and have had some really positive feedback from our teams. We have seen how fostering a healthy and stress-free workforce can lead to higher levels of engagement, motivation, productivity and job retention. 

If an employer can show openness in dealing with mental health issues, it can help engender an environment of openness right across an organisation and this is a really positive step that all employers can take, at little or no cost. 

By addressing the challenges around the issue of mental health and by giving healthy recognition to all aspects of employee health and wellbeing, companies can create more supportive environments and that’s got to be a good thing.