Wellbeing in HR - a guide to mental health in the workplace

Written by
Changeboard Team

12 Feb 2020

12 Feb 2020 • by Changeboard Team

Wellbeing in HR - what do employers need to know? Find out in this guide to mental health in the workplace.

Every business needs productive people. But now we have a more sustainable idea of what productivity looks like.

In times past, productivity (or output, at least) was centred on getting as much out of the workforce as humanly possible. It was only about a century ago that Henry Ford (or the trade unions, depending on what you believe) invented the concept of a weekend.

Promoting wellbeing in the workplace, looking after employees’ mental health and instigating a proper work-life balance are proven productivity drivers. So how hard can this be for employers to achieve?

Wellbeing in HR - the challenges

The UK is currently in the middle of an almost decade-long productivity slump. Even though we're all working hard. The OECD’s 2017 report on hours worked found that British workers log six extra hours a week compared to their German peers but are 36% less productive.

The problem of presenteeism

Many employees attend the workplace even though they're unfit or unmotivated to work. In a CIPD 2018 survey, 86% of respondents witnessed presenteeism in their organisations, compared to just 26% in 2010. According to Gallup, 87% of employees are not engaged by their work.

More than a third of UK workers say their workplace has had a negative effect on their health.

Wellbeing in HR - the benefits

The case for taking a positive approach to employee wellbeing is clear. A happy, motivated workplace means better work is carried out.

An engaged team can improve profitability by 21%.

89% of workers at companies that support wellbeing would recommend working there to a friend.

According to Glassdoor, 87% of employees now expect organisations to support them in finding a work-life balance.

Making wellbeing in the workplace an HR priority is clearly key to employee productivity and retention.

Resilience and mental health in the workplace

An estimated one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. One in six people in England suffer from a common issue such as anxiety or depression. It's a widespread social issue.

Social attitudes to mental health are improving... but stigma remains.

In 2014, The National Attitudes to Mental Illness Survey found that the public perspective of mental health has been incrementally improving year on year. That said, reports of severe mental illness are actually on the rise, and some of the stigma around mental ill health still remains.

It is estimated that mental illness could cost the UK £94bn a year. What can employers do to get it right?

See Mental Health Advice & Information on Changeboard

Breaking down mental health stigma

It would be easy to think that we can all talk openly about what’s going on with our mental health. The truth, of course, is that the stigma surrounding mental health is still prevalent in society. Some people might feel they still can’t talk about it.

In the words of mental health campaigner Alastair Campbell: “I don’t think it’s brave to talk about mental health. You’re not brave for talking about asthma. All that stuff is stigmatising. That means there’s something odd or special about it. People go back to work after a broken leg or cancer, so why not mental illness?”

Creating a safe space for employees to share their mental health stories - when they feel ready - can make a profound difference.

Jack Jacobs first suffered from anorexia at school. He went to work at KPMG and is now a campaigner on the issue.

David Brewin, a former partner at EY, went from having his receptionist book him a place at the Priory due to a period of profound anxiety and depression to sharing his story in the hope of normalising mental ill health in the workplace.

Former VP of HR at Unilever, Geoff McDonald (who also suffered from anxiety), is now a mental health campaigner. He says that we can break down mental health stigma in our organisations by embracing these difficult conversations.

'Changing the lens on mental health' - Alastair Campbell and Geoff McDonald describe their mental health journeys at Future Talent Conference 2018

Wellbeing in HR - ways to improve mental health in the workplace

As an example, MediaCom UK took the Mental Health Pledge. The agency has trained over 50 employees to become mental health allies, on call for peers who need to discuss their mental health.

Reducing work-related stress is key to longterm business success

In 2018, work-related stress accounted for over half of the UK's sick-leave days for the first time. In total, 15.4 million days were lost in 2017/8. With the rise of presenteeism and an 'always-on culture' (more on that later), many employees are reporting greater strain on their daily work.

Giving your employees space, and perhaps a greater level of autonomy with wise use of technology, can help lift the burden of work-related stress.

Improving workplace resilience

A major potential driver of stress is the amount of change we are seeing in the workplace. Technology is causing severe disruption in the employment landscape, with the pace of change set to increase. Effective leadership can mitigate some of the stress, but your team must still develop resilience.

Can resilience be taught? Rather than viewing resilience as a skill that can be passed on quickly, we must see it as a trait as a trait that can be developed over time, with mindful repetition.

Achieving work life balance

A 2018 YouGov survey found that just 6% of UK workers are in 9-5 jobs. Technology enables us to work when and where we please. What does this mean to employees and employers? Rather than using this new freedom to work less, employers are far more likely to check work emails while on holiday.

Employers increasingly need to manage people across various locations. How can leaders get the work-life balance ratio right - for themselves, and for employees?

See Work Life Balance Advice & Information on Changeboard

Wellbeing in HR: The pros and cons of remote working from home

We all like the idea of working from home, but there are pros and cons. Yes, it means less conflict between your home and professional life. However, loneliness can be a problem for some workers.

Creating the right home working environment and keeping up communication with colleagues is crucial to both productivity and wellbeing.

Employers who fully commit to remote working will allow employees to get the most out of the process. Employee wellbeing and productivity can be strengthened through technology (like digital collaboration platforms). Strategic use of technology can help remote workers feel involved and meet targets.

Farewell to the nine-to-five

As mentioned earlier, many of us are now working different hours. Some schools of thought even propose we should all work considerably less.

For many workers, shorter working hours are the only way to maintain a work-life balance in the face of commitments like childcare or health.

In 2014, Carers UK estimated that 3 million adults are caring for elderly or disabled relatives. Long-term leave can often lead to employees feeling isolated and removed from work.

Employers can ease transition by allowing remote working or a shorter working week.

HR, tech and mental health - the risks of always-on work culture

Tech is letting us work to our preferred patterns, but it is also draining our free time.

Always-on culture has become a real problem, as employees feel obliged to be engaged with work at all times. In France, employees are now protected by law if they do not want to respond to work emails over the weekend.

What is a simple, effective remedy for always-on work culture and its risks to wellbeing in the workplace?

Leaders should let employees know they aren’t expected to be at the end of their phone 24/7.

This should be enough to help them, and you, find a better balance.

See all Wellbeing in HR Advice