The last few years have been difficult for everybody. Having gone through the first global pandemic in a century, this year has brought worrying headlines and a cost-of-living crisis that is impacting families across the UK. And it is taking a huge toll on people’s mental health.
Increasingly, mental health, wellbeing, stress and burnout are becoming issues that many SME employers are having to spend more of their time thinking about. For example, some 80% of small business owners have experienced symptoms of poor mental health.
So, why is good mental health at work important? Mental health not only has a direct impact on wellbeing, it also has greater ties to productivity and retention. The landmark Stevenson/Farmer review of mental health and employers published in 2017 found that 300,000 people with a long-term mental health problem lose their jobs each year, costing UK businesses up to £42bn.
But supporting mental health is something employers need to consider on a regular basis. Not only are there productivity gains to be found in doing so, but employers also have a ‘duty of care’ to their workers. They could find themselves at risk of legal action under the Equality Act 2010 if they discriminate or fail to make reasonable adjustments.
Struggling to talk about mental health?
Many employers and employees still struggle to discuss mental health openly and honestly. Signs of mental distress can be hard to identify for employers, particularly when some employees find it hard to talk about it with their employers.
Research by UK charity Mind found that 21% of employees had called in sick to avoid work when asked how workplace stress had affected them. Furthermore, 14% had resigned and 42% had considered resigning over workplace stress. Furthermore, 30% of staff disagreed with the statement ‘I would feel able to talk openly with my line manager if I was feeling stressed’. Nevertheless, there are signs that some business owners are becoming more responsive, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In a survey by dispute resolution service Acas, two-thirds of British employers reported speaking to their staff about mental health and wellbeing over the past year, including the pandemic – but this leaves plenty of room for some improvement.
How are companies currently supporting mental health?
As mental health issues are becoming better understood, there is a range of new initiatives, apps and programmes available to support workers.
Mercer Marsh Benefits Mental Health Awareness for All digital workplace mental health training course has been designed to help employees thrive and perform at their best and offers support to large and small businesses.
Employers can also support their workers by modelling healthy behaviours, checking-in with staff regularly, offering more flexibility, and by providing employee benefits that support good mental health.
What can Mercer Marsh Benefits do for you?
Companies can structure their benefits through us to access services such as an EAP, which provides confidential counselling and practical advice – covering legal, debt, childcare, and eldercare. Meanwhile, access to a Virtual GP Service can enable employees to see a doctor without having to take time off work, allowing them to fit healthcare around their work and their life.
Without an effective wellbeing strategy, companies may be missing opportunities to have a positive and proactive effect on the health and welfare of their workforce and, in turn, their business.
It’s never too late to start talking about mental health with employees. Firms that act on this will benefit from a healthier, happier workplace.