Being mindful of mental health in the workplace has never been more important. Covid-19 has brought increased economic uncertainty, restrictions to our daily lives, disruption to child and elderly care, and a transformation in the way we work. As a result, employees are experiencing stress, anxiety, loneliness or depression like never before.
The mental health crisis facing UK workers is exemplified by recent research, which found that mental health issues are the number one cause of sickness absences amongst UK staff. In fact, data from 2018-2019 shows that work-related stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 44% of overall ill health in the workplace.
While the stigma around workplace mental health has reduced in recent years, the support on offer to workers across the mental health spectrum is typically limited. There is often a “one-size-fits-all” approach that fails to cater to the individual needs of every employee.
Below, we explore these specific issues in more detail, and what businesses can do to better personalise mental health support for employees.
The shortfalls of traditional mental health solutions
- The “one-size-fits-all” approach
Consider the entire mental health spectrum and how diverse it is. Someone suffering from anxiety is not the same as someone suffering from depression. Similarly, a worker looking for help to address emotional trauma is not the same as an employee looking for life coaching to boost their confidence. Providing generic videos offering self-improvement advice, for example, will work for some employees, but for others it’s simply not enough.
- A hybrid working world
Home working has become the norm in the last 12 months, and while this is set to continue in some capacity for many, a return to office life is also very much on the cards now. The future working world will be a diverse one, and mental health support will have to evolve to support these different working practices. It’s not enough for support to be purely in-person, for example, as many of us are more comfortable with the distance and relative anonymity of remote communication.
- Stigma around workplace mental health remains
Attitudes are undoubtedly improving, but stigma when dealing with mental health concerns in the workplace is still prominent. For example, many of the solutions currently on offer require workers to disclose their issues to their employers in order to secure help; it is this lack of privacy and anonymity that puts many off.
These challenges are something I’ve experienced myself in my own working life. A few years ago, I spent eight months in and out of hospital with an undiagnosed physical illness, which took a severe toll on my mental health. I reached out to occupational health at my corporate company, but experienced this “one-size-fits-all” approach first hand. It was only when I found a fantastic life coach through my own independent research that I managed to turn my life around.
Overcoming the challenges
- A range of approaches
Businesses looking to better support their staff must therefore embrace a more nuanced approach to mental health that covers all challenges. The types of support offered should be numerous, ranging from therapy and counselling, through to other services such as psychology, life coaching, careers guidance and meditation. Alongside this, employers must look towards preventative solutions – available to employees at every level – rather than only dealing with present issues impacting staff.
- A virtual option
Live one-to-one video sessions via online platforms have been shown to be just as effective as face-to-face consultations, and are flexible to the unique demands of the hybrid working world. Such an option means employees can access experts from anywhere in the world on-demand, and in different languages and time zones.
- Empowerment and anonymity
Each member of staff should have the freedom to find a service that suits them, before embarking on a course that helps them to achieve their goals. The key is to provide the flexibility and choice that traditional services often lack, instead of forcing an employee to speak to someone without having the option to vet a practitioner themselves. Workers should also be able to access this support completely anonymously, ensuring their use of any platform is done with their privacy very much in mind. All of this will help further reduce stigma in the long term.
Looking to the future
Covid-19 has undoubtedly taken its toll on employee mental health, but businesses don’t need to worry if they approach the coming months in the right way.
By offering a range of mental health solutions and prioritising the individual needs of every staff member, employers will be better placed to address any concerns, while improving individuals’ relationships with their past, present and future. After all, a happy employee is more likely to be an engaged and productive employee, and with an average return of £4 for every £1 spent, a positive case can be made for employers investing in mental health.