World Mental Health Day – are businesses doing enough?

Workplace stress is the most common reason people are experiencing 'Sunday Scaries.'

For over 70 years, the WHO has been working to ensure that mental health is treated on a par with physical health. Despite this, many business leaders and managers don’t know how to manage their employees’ stress and mental wellbeing.

In recognition of this year’s World Mental Health Day theme, ‘Make mental health and wellbeing for all a global priority’, DiversityQ spoke with industry leaders about what businesses can do to support their employees better.

This is what they had to say…

Rob Evans, Senior HR Consultant at WorkNest, said: “A staggering majority of 130 employers we recently spoke with had not provided any training to line managers to support employee mental health. Line managers are on the ‘frontline’ for monitoring and supporting employee wellbeing, so underinvesting in this area will be detrimental.”

Suppose managers are equipped with proper knowledge and skills. In that case, they can spot the earliest signs of underlying mental health issues, open up better lines of communication with employees surrounding mental health, and learn the different types of support they can offer team members that need it.

Another important reason for the upskilling of managers is to enable HR and employers to support employees at the earliest possible opportunity to avoid issues arising or escalating from conditions. In what can be a vicious circle, mental health conditions in the workplace left unhandled are likely to cause performance issues which could then make the employee’s health condition worse, and the impact on everyone heightens.

Evans added: “We also know that employers and HR are less confident addressing performance concerns with those with mental health conditions, which needs to change. Up to eight in every ten employers aren’t ‘100% happy’ handling this. Although, we’re still more confident dealing with physical health conditions. 

“However, performance management cases with mental health referrals are outnumbering physical health, so businesses have to better support those with mental health issues.

“Due to increased hybrid and flexible working, mental health issues have also become much harder to detect as we have less face-to-face time with team members. Therefore, businesses must build a culture that encourages open communication and makes employees feel comfortable speaking up if they need support. These softer skills in handling mental health and wellbeing in the workplace will continue to increase in demand as the cost-of-living crisis continues.”

Mental health support

Chelsea Coates, Chief People Officer at GWI: “Whether it’s political turbulence or changes brought on by the pandemic, everyone has had a lot to deal with in recent years. And now, with the cost of living crisis acting as an extra stressor, mental health support must be prioritised in the workplace.

“This means real, action-based support. For companies today, superficial strategies aren’t enough. An important element of any mental health programme is training for leaders and managers – recent data from GWI found that 34% of employees want to see this type of training across the business. A manager that’s had this training is much more likely to spot when a person is struggling with their mental health and put plans in place to best support them. The right level of understanding and training around mental health is no longer a nice to have but necessary.

“We also found that 51% of people want employers to provide mental wellbeing leave or days off. As the line between our work and personal lives blurred during COVID-19, giving employees this headspace can help to safeguard their mental health and create a positive, productive working environment.”

Work/life balance

Andrew Filev, CEO and founder at Wrike: “This year’s World Mental Health Day has never been more relevant, especially given our increasingly hybrid work landscape. While some individuals have embraced the flexibility that comes with this, many are finding it increasingly difficult to switch off and restrict working hours. This can lead to feelings of overload and burnout. Our research revealed that 60% of knowledge workers are stressed because their job is eating into their personal life.

“Ongoing stress at work can have a huge impact on mental health, which has consequences for productivity and talent retention. And data shows that a lack of mental health support can reduce business productivity by a quarter.

“With the number of full-time, office-based employees continuing to decline, it’s critical that organisations set out detailed support strategies to help staff adjust to remote working. At the heart of this, they must prioritise mental health by promoting work-life balance and ensuring that employees have the tools to manage their workload effectively. Modern technologies – such as collaborative work management tools – can also help by enabling employees to manage work and time on a daily basis, limiting overtime whilst maintaining transparency and productivity.”

Heart of Progress

Alison McClure, UKI HR Leader at Kyndryl: “We are all familiar with the term physical health and what this means. Similarly, we also have mental health, which changes throughout our lives, having periods where there is more or less impact on our daily living.

“The World Health Organisation provides a great description of wellbeing as a state where an individual can realise their potential, cope with everyday stresses of life and thrive in work and the community. This considers mental wellbeing as well as physical and social too, all interacting and impacting one on the other as we move through life – equilibrium or balance being the place we want to be.

“At Kyndryl, we put people at the Heart of Progress, and you might ask – what does this look like? Well, it is creating and living out a culture of empathy, empowerment and understanding through clearly expressed values defined through The Kyndryl Way.

“Building a successful workforce starts with an inclusive, safe environment, where all feel they can bring their authentic selves to work and express themselves without stigma. Initiatives such as World Mental Health Day provide an opportunity to focus on this area of health and wellbeing, raise awareness and highlight stigma. It doesn’t stop there either, as we can take away the learning and experience into home life for a holistic approach.”

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