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A quarter of the workforce is suffering stress, depression, or anxiety

Gill Tanner, Senior Behavioural Scientist - CoachHub

At present, a quarter of the workforce is suffering with work-related stress, depression, or anxiety. There are a wide range of potential causes for this spike:  the shift towards hybrid working, increased digital transformation, and high-pressure environments to name but a few. Managers would be well advised to provide support to staff suffering with their mental health at work, as this not only impacts the individual worker, but can cause lasting damage to the wider employee base and even company profits.

HR leaders need to continually review and enhance their people programmes to include mental wellbeing support, which is often not included in these regular reviews. Indeed, less than half (38%) of HR leaders have provided support with wellbeing to their staff since the start of the pandemic, demonstrating that a gap exists between employee needs and organisational provision. If managers want to close that gap, they should consider delivering targeted mental health and wellbeing assistance that is tailored to the individual employee.

Rising difficulties around wellbeing in the workplace

Everyone experiences stress at work from time to time as a natural reaction to periods of high pressure. Moderate, short-term stress can even be beneficial; researchers at UC Berkeley have found that this type of stress can improve performance and boost memory. Yet when stress has a long-term presence in an individual’s life, or even develops into something more sinister, it is far from beneficial to a workplace.

In recent years, issues with mental health have taken a greater toll on society. Globally, the number of people who reported dealing with the negative mental health impacts of lockdown measures soared – making the transition back to ‘normal ways of working’ even more difficult. The Covid-19 pandemic also forced people to confront psychological disorders in a more immediate way than usual, which led to them taking medical or compassionate leave. When combined with the feelings of grief and isolation that everyone felt during this time, the reporting of poor mental health in the workplace has increased significantly.

In addition to this, people are working in a very different environment than they once did. Increasingly, companies are offering hybrid policies to their staff, and whilst this brings a plethora of benefits for many, it can also impact employee wellbeing. Many employees tend to work longer hours when working remotely, as the lack of distinction between work life and home life makes it challenging to truly ‘switch off’.

The real cost of poor mental health

Low mood and other mental health difficulties are a very personal experience, so we often think about them in terms of how they impact the individual employee. Consequences can include poor motivation and performance in the short-term, which can potentially lead to sickness absence in the longer term.

Poor mental health in an employee population can also have wider-reaching effects on the organisation. A third of employees would consider leaving their job if they felt a lack of wellbeing support from their employer, which businesses simply cannot afford in today’s context of frequent staff turnover. Moreover, poor mental health can lead to worsened business performance, as when staff are suffering, they are less engaged and less motivated, which has a knock-on effect on profits. Mental health issues touch every aspect of an organisation, and as such, need to be managed carefully and effectively.

Offering direct support to those who need it most

A good starting point is an assessment of current mental health and wellbeing practices, to discover what is already working well. This can include carrying out anonymous surveys among staff to find out what support they find helpful and discover the specific causes of poor mental health. Often leaders are not aware of their employees’ unique needs or are not sure how to deal with them, which is the first step in providing better support.

Once management has a clear picture of the requirements of their employees, they can begin to implement long-term, tangible solutions. A wide range of digital technologies are available in the health and wellness space and can ensure that managers implement effective mental health strategies without exhausting company resources. For example, digital workplace coaching can guide employees through their personal and professional challenges. Coaches can support employees with any wellbeing concerns they may have, as well as supporting them in their professional development, ultimately contributing to improved mental health across the organisation.

Building a futureproof strategy to support wellbeing

Depression and anxiety cost the global economy $1 trillion in lost productivity, demonstrating that a lack of mental health support in the workplace has a specific, measured economic impact, as well as negatively affecting organisational culture and productivity. Employers that implement targeted and personalised mental health support will inevitably see a strong return on their investment when it comes to employee wellbeing. A tailored programme to meet individual needs is the gold standard and employers who do this will be the ones that employees want to work for, meaning that everybody wins.

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