At the end of 2019, the HSE published its health and safety at work report 2018/19. This insightful document collates data about work-related ill health and injuries for the year, but – crucially – also reveals the economic impact of these conditions; including how many companies faced prosecution for neglecting their duty of care to staff.
The report does indicate a downward trend for work-related ailments throughout 2018/19 – although only slightly, as numbers have remained broadly flat across the last five years.
Whilst this might seem cause for cautious optimism amongst health and safety professionals, it’s interesting to see how these numbers break down. For instance, the most working days lost last year (54%) were due to job-related, stress, depression, or anxiety.
That’s almost 13 million days lost in total due to work-related mental health issues, and this number appears to be rising, with 246,000 new cases reported over the last year alone.
The culprit is workplace culture
Workload, lack of support, violence, threats, bullying and changes at work are estimated to be the main causes of stress, depression, or anxiety for workers according to the report.
Worryingly, these are all issues which describe a pervasive and underlying attitude about workplace wellbeing that hasn’t yet been fully addressed as we move into a new decade.
Embrace education and awareness
As an eLearning specialist, I’m an advocate of training to help raise the profile of mental health at work.
Awareness training helps leaders to recognize the warning signs of deteriorating mental health and, if necessary, address the issue in a sensitive and empathetic manner. It discourages negative tendencies, like sweeping mental health issues under the rug, by demystifying the topic and increasing understanding.
Training can also empower employees to speak-up about emotional distress and recognize acceptable versus unacceptable treatment at work. Knowing your workers’ rights (and where to go if these rights aren’t upheld) can legitimize feelings of depression, stress, or anxiety at work, helping to raise both awareness and esteem on the matter.
It’s time to raise the bar
Still, training is but one piece of the puzzle when it comes to long term change – and mental health initiatives can take many forms depending on your business, employees, or industry. The key, I think, is to remain agile and always open to improvement.
Promoting a healthy culture
We spoke to a number of businesses to find out how they’ve improved employee wellbeing over the last few years. Here are a few of their comments.
From flexible working opportunities to peer mentoring and discounted mindfulness apps (the company even promotes boardroom workouts on a Monday!), KC Communications is a nice example of how mixing and matching wellbeing initiatives ensures inclusivity.
Doing so, means staff at all levels and dispositions can take responsibility for their mental health and participate in activities suitable for them.
Adopting a more flexible approach
Claire Crompton, Director at The Audit Lab, has also benefited from a flexible approach to working-life, as the company completes the equivalent of a 4 day week, utilizing flexi-time to help staff structure work around their lives, rather than the other way around.
After taking a flexible approach to our business we have a great level of employee satisfaction and a massive decline in sickness days too. This works for us, as in the last two years our company has enjoyed 0% staff turnover.
Providing the support employees need
Russell Stilwell, MD at RSE Building Services, has experienced mental health issues first-hand and understands how leaders must set the tone from the top by demonstrating healthy attitudes towards mental health and positive behavior themselves.
I have implemented an open-door policy, cultivating a culture where my employees can speak openly about difficulties they may be experiencing. Senior members of staff have undergone emotional intelligence and leadership coaching and Continuing Professional Development plans are given to all members of staff to ensure they are being supported.
Russell also offers his team mental health workshops to increase understanding about wellbeing and stress management:
I would never want my employees to face their struggles alone. Support can be a savior.
Promising change and then delivering
You may have heard of the ‘Time to Change Pledge’ or the ‘Mental Health at Work Commitment’ – both are initiatives that encourage and support organizations to change the way they think and act about mental health problems and end discrimination.
Both websites offer useful resources for businesses looking to increase their investment in mental health and wellbeing and may be a good place to start if you’re looking to implement positive change.
Pietro Carmignani, CEO for UK, IE & NL at Gympass, has signed the ‘Time to Change’ pledge and, shortly after, implemented mental health first aiders across the company.
Similar to physical first aiders, mental first aiders are on hand as a first port of call for staff experiencing mental health issues or emotional distress. They’re trained to listen and communicate non-judgmentally and can spot the warning signs and symptoms for a range of mental health conditions, encouraging employees to seek appropriate professional support if necessary.
We must act proactively. Encouraging employees to talk in an open, supportive and honest environment is powerful and effective.
There is a lot we can learn from businesses that are leading the way when it comes to employee wellbeing. It’s good to remember that you don’t have to be an expert to talk about mental health at work – just be ready to have regular conversations and remain open to change; there’s help and resources available.