How leaders can help create a healthy company all year round

Mental health issues were the number one reason that UK employees took time off work in 2021

Known as ‘Blue Monday,’ the third Monday of each January is said to be the most depressing day of the year. Whether or not you give credence to the calculus behind Blue Monday, it reminds us of the very real mental health struggles that many within our society face each day.

We may call these struggles ‘the blues’, but in reality, they are considered to be depression, anxiety, burnout and more. Those suffering from poor mental health deserve to be acknowledged, supported, and signposted to help — nowhere more so than in the workplace.

Despite being in the midst of a global pandemic, recent research by GoodShape found that mental health issues were the number one reason that UK employees took time off work in 2021.

Indeed, as cases of poor mental health continue to surge, it is perhaps no surprise that as we enter 2022, a new global standard is being tabled to help recognise and manage psychological health within the workplace. ISO 45003 will be designed to provide best practices for managers to effectively support employees’ mental health at work. Adding another useful tool in the workplace health and safety toolkit, the standard helps protect workers by offering proper support for their psychological safety.

As we move into 2022, organisational leaders can support employees’ psychological health and safety through better insights and processes. These can set the tone for the year whilst providing lasting downstream benefits long after ‘Blue Monday’ passes.

The link between mental wellness and performance

Though we often compartmentalise ‘the work self’ from ‘the home self’, the truth is that, to some extent, each employee brings their ‘whole self’ to work. This means that an employee who is struggling with their mental health – regardless of whether the reason is work-related – will realistically not be able to perform to their full potential in the workplace.

In fact, GoodShape’s most recent research found that poor mental health accounted for 19% of all lost working time across the country in 2021. Mental health issues were also the leading cause of work absences in the past year, higher even than confirmed cases of COVID-19.

In total, UK workers took over 319 million days off work for illness or injury, at an estimated cost to employers of £43 billion and counting. 

So, if we don’t support our employees, the impact on productivity is clear. Employers must be proactive and focused on authentic support, rather than just providing tick-box exercises with low take-up. Better insights around absence, early intervention and signposting the necessary support will help build wellbeing in the workplace and go a long way to improving overall performance.

Know your workforce

It’s a given that you want your employees to perform at their best. To help facilitate that, you must ensure they are properly supported, and that means understanding the issues that are affecting them.

Employers making the most progress in this area understand the benefits of better insights and data to provide a robust picture of workforce health. Data is collected in a transparent and non-intrusive way with a clearly communicated purpose that it is beneficial to employees.

These insights allow employers to predict trends and be proactive, intervening quickly where needed, rather than having to react to illness once it is more established and harder to remedy. The responses can be tailored and segmented to support requirements, for example focusing on regions or departments where there are particular concerns.

Importantly, the ability to identify and support issues at higher levels will free up time and capacity of management to identify and support individual cases of concern.  

Be a clued-in ‘pandemic era’ employer

Employees face a new breed of challenges in today’s modern workplace. The pandemic itself has impacted productivity over the last year with confirmed cases of COVID-19 representing 16% of all lost working time across the country. But the workplace pandemic challenges don’t end at symptomatic illness.

Many employers are having to reconcile the very real and diverse attitudes of their staff. Individuals’ experiences and opinions of the pandemic are wildly different, which creates its own challenges. For every person suffering from Long Covid, there is someone who denies its existence. For every person who has revelled in working from home, there is someone who has struggled with isolation.

With the return of working from home, it has become clear that the pandemic is far from over. Employers must find ways of navigating these shifting and diverse attitudes while maintaining psychological health and safety across their workforce. And they need tools and processes that can help identify, support and signpost people who are struggling.

Help your employees help you

For employers, it’s never been more important to take a holistic approach and be aware of all aspects of an employee’s health. Human relationships make a huge difference to company success. You need to be there for your employees because when they know that they can count on you in times of need, they’ll equally be there to go the extra mile for the company. That means being alert to the wellbeing of staff and offering the right support all year round. Blue Monday may be a PR invention, but the light it shines on workforce wellbeing could be the catalyst needed to help more leaders prioritise the health of their people – and, in turn, their business.

Suzanne Marshall is Clinical Governance Officer at employee wellbeing organisation, GoodShape.

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