To mark World Mental Health Day 2020, we asked George from our partners Sanctus to tell us about the importance of mental health support at work.
Mental health in the workplace is a topic that’s gained a lot of traction in the last few years. It has shot up the agenda of many businesses and has become a huge part of the conversation, not only in company strategies but in the wider media too.
If you’re one of the progressive ones talking about it, it’s easy to think that things are moving ahead smoothly and positively. But the reality is that the progressive thinkers are still in a bit of a small bubble; the overwhelming majority of companies aren’t yet doing enough for mental health in the workplace.
This isn’t to criticise; some don’t know what to do. Some are scared or nervous about starting the conversation, so they do nothing instead. Some don’t have the budget and so think there’s nothing they can do.
2020 has increased the focus on mental health at work
It goes without saying that 2020 has been a crazy year. While it will take some time for the dust to settle and see the true impact of everything that’s happened, we know it will fundamentally change the way we live and work.
The events of 2020 have caused a huge cultural shift in many areas, and this includes mental health in the workplace. The movement was already happening, albeit slowly, but now it’s been supercharged and has sped up.
Mental health has arguably never been a more important topic to discuss. Collectively speaking, there haven’t been many other periods in human history when, both nationally and globally, a huge strain has been placed on peoples’ mental health.
Worries about the future, worries about work, money and rent; health anxiety both for ourselves or loved ones; nervousness about returning to the commute or the office; redundancies; an endless wave of negative coverage in the media and online…our mental health has had to endure a lot in a short space of time.
Because of this, mental health support has got to be one of the most urgent priorities for businesses as they look ahead.
Businesses can’t just shut their eyes and pretend mental health problems don’t exist. Pandemic or no pandemic, employees are going to struggle. There are no two ways about it. Gone are the days where businesses can expect us to work in robotic ways, content that we’ll leave our problems at the door and just pick up a paycheck each month. The working landscape has changed. People want to feel fulfilled and energised. People want to be more real and more human. People want to live with balance and with purpose.
While you’ll still find some companies who dismiss the above as “fluffy”, the reality is that this shift is happening, whether we like it or not. Employees and prospective candidates are looking for different things from their roles, workplaces and leaders compared to 20, 10 or even two years ago. Mental health is much more at the front-and-centre of their minds now.
The cost of poor mental health at work
As I’ve already highlighted, COVID has led many people to re-evaluate their lives and what they want from it, particularly when it comes to work. Conversations about work-life balance and remote work have been dominating, but you can expect employee wellbeing and mental health support to be key areas employees are looking at once the dust of COVID has settled a little more.
The stats around mental health couldn’t be clearer. One of the best reports on this area, from Deloitte, highlights the cost of poor mental health in the workplace. Back in 2019, poor mental health was costing UK employers £45 billion a year; a cost which had risen by 16% since 2017.
Breaking those numbers down into specifics, the cost of poor mental health per employee per year sits at anywhere between £1475 and £2277 depending on your region. So, if you’re a 300-person business based in London, the cost of poor mental health to your business is around £683,100 a year!
Conversely, Deloitte also found that for every £1 invested in mental health, employers can see an average return of £5. For employers that have a range of services in place, this can rise to as high as £11 returned!
The cost is clear, but so too is the investment.
Businesses that take mental health seriously will see a positive impact in monetary terms. And not only that, but also in terms of output, productivity, engagement, retention and general happiness from their employees.
The right thing to do
Aside from the numbers and the changing landscape that business must respond to, looking after employee mental health is just morally the right thing to do. If businesses expect employees to spend the majority of their week helping to shape and grow a business, it’s completely reasonable to say that the business has a duty to support them through that journey.
A desire to find ‘work-life flow’, where people look for a blend of work and life, rather than being their work self and their life self at different times, is replacing a want for work-life balance. As this continues to happen, the conversation around the morality of mental health in the workplace will only get louder.
Businesses that prioritise mental health will see more engaged employees, employees that stay longer, work harder, and generally feel more fulfilled and happier with work and life. The business will enjoy a solid return on investment and likely an increase in revenue too. They’ll have a great employer brand and attract the best talent.
Businesses that ignore this conversation will find that it starts to cost them in all those areas. It won’t happen overnight; it will be a gradual decline and slip that will make the mountain a lot harder to climb once they realise it needs addressing.
Generally speaking, employees want to do their best work and want to feel their best when they’re doing it. Life isn’t always as easy as that, but the more that employees feel their business, and their leaders, are in the trenches with them supporting them, the better we’ll all do together.