Six ways that employers can support the mental health and wellbeing of employees
According to research carried out by the charity Mind, at least one-in-six workers experience common mental health problems, including anxiety and depression. It was found that work is the single biggest cause of stress in people’s lives – more so than debt and other financial problems – and a lack of employer support and training can contribute to the deterioration of employee mental health. A newfound attitude is highlighting the importance of wellbeing in the workplace, and the movement towards addressing the issues has gained much traction in recent years.
As this week is Mental Health Awareness Week 2019, we have outlined a number of positive mental health initiatives that many employers already undertake to support the wellbeing of employees, plus some suggestions of ways to further existing efforts:
Flexible working. Flexible working initiatives have gained almost as much attention as the wider mental health discussion recently, with many employers having already introduced these effective strategies to their businesses. The benefits of allowing employees to work flexibly are non-exhaustive, with a more engaged workforce an inevitable result. Flexible working allows employees to change their physical environment, which can have a positive effect on their productivity and wellbeing. Employees also value the additional level of trust from their employer when they are able to work flexibly, whether from home or in different patterns. To an employee, balancing work and home life is more of a priority than ever before, and flexible working allows employees more opportunities to arrange their private appointments as and when needed. For instance, flexible working helps to avoid situations where employees may be reluctant to seek medical help for fear of reprimand for missing work.
Positive wellbeing initiatives. Employers may promote social and sporting activities or charitable events within their organisation, which allow employees to socialise in a more comfortable environment. This helps to promote an open and honest culture by encouraging positive relationships within the workforce.
Appraisals and supervision. Mindful employers can be recognised by their efforts in understanding their employees and their employees’ concerns. Appraisals and supervision are a valuable way of achieving this, as well as return-to-work interviews following illness or other absences. They are not only a way to monitor the progress or productivity of an employee, but also an opportunity for individuals to speak about personal as well as professional concerns. The conversations need to be two-way, and it is important that the interviewer listens as well as speaks.
Employers are encouraged to review and recognise what they are already doing to support employees, and to consider how they can further their efforts to better foster a culture of openness and positivity within the workplace. We have compiled a list of additional mental health initiatives that can be adopted to support employees:
Mental health training. Employers may not be familiar with ‘mental health first aid’ or ‘mental health training’. It provides basic skills for individuals to improve resilience and help them recognise and respond effectively to signs of mental health problems in others. Not only is it beneficial to ensure that key individuals in the organisation (particularly those with management responsibilities) understand the importance of mental health and appropriate support available, but also it encourages employees to feel more confident to speak up if they believe they will be met with compassion and understanding. We recommend that employers consider key people within the organisation who would be suitable or appropriate for mental health training, and to also consider seeking volunteers to attend the training. At Shulmans we have arranged training for all managers to enable them to develop a greater understanding of the importance of mental health, including the ability to recognise the signs that someone might need help and where to direct colleagues to in order to receive the support they need. Increased awareness and understanding of mental health at the senior and management level of a business will play a significant part in reducing and eventually eliminating the stigma around mental health in the workplace.
Employee assistance programmes. These are widely available and confidential workplace services that employers can fund to help their employees deal with work and life stressors. Individuals can use this service to seek help in relation to family issues, financial concerns, relationship issues, and even addiction or legal concerns. Employers should offer training on what can be accessed through employee assistance programmes and remind employees that it is there. At Shulmans we have invested in a programme to provide all our colleagues with support, including a 24-hour helpline for individuals to discuss personal issues and face-to-face counselling sessions. The scheme launched with a series of presentations to employees and continues to be widely communicated throughout the firm.
Embrace external sources of support. Consider reaching out to external charities and initiatives. Employers are not meant to be experts. Even the experts acknowledge that mental health is as expansive as the deepest oceans, and our understanding will continue to evolve as we dive deeper. Shulmans’ colleagues elected Leeds Mind as our charity of the year for 2019 and Shulmans has used this opportunity to build a relationship with the charity, in order to receive valuable insight and contributions to support our own approach to mental health and wellbeing. Employees benefit from the impartiality of an external partnership. It provides a tangible and accessible source of support, whilst demonstrating the understanding of an employer who is recognising the need for that support.
The workforce is an employer’s most valuable asset, so employee wellbeing should be an ongoing concern – and is an ongoing obligation for employers. What is important to remember, however, is that employers are not there to solve an employee’s mental health issues, but rather to ensure that individuals receive appropriate support.
By Sarah West, trainee solicitor and employment specialist at Shulmans LLP