By taking a positive approach to employee stress and mental wellbeing, employers are helping their staff to stay at their best both at work and at home, says Fiona Lowe, Westfield Health’s head of HR development and strategy
Mental health problems impact millions of people in the UK and, according to the Mental Health Foundation, can affect their ability to sustain relationships, work or just get through the day. A 2014 OECD report (pdf) estimates that the economic cost to the UK is between £70bn and £100bn a year. Perhaps more worryingly, a Health & Social Care Information Centre survey published in 2009, showed that only about a quarter of people with a mental health problem receive ongoing treatment.
All too often, the first an employer knows about a mental health problem is when the employee takes time off, which can have a huge impact on a business. And the main culprits of workplace stress are excessive workload, frustration with poor management, lack of support, threat of redundancy and unrealistic targets.
The employer needs to take responsibility for eliminating practices or cultural habits within their organisation that contribute to staff stress. Proactive engagement in mental wellbeing activities leads to improved employee motivation, greater staff retention and increased competitiveness.
All jobs will have some degree of resultant stress, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As Stephanie Davies, founder and chief executive of Laughology, observes: “It’s important we understand stress and its purpose. In small doses, stress has advantages. For instance, stress can help you meet daily challenges and motivate you to reach your goals. In fact, stress can help you accomplish tasks more efficiently. It can even boost memory. However, continually being in a state of stress means that body chemicals such as adrenaline, cortisol, norepinephrine are constantly being stimulated, which can create symptoms of ill health.”
The important thing is that employees are given the knowledge and opportunity to manage their stress. An employer can help by:
- Encouraging employees to walk more, take the stairs, or participate in lunchtime activities. Physical activity in just about any form can help to produce endorphins – happy hormones – that boost the mood.
- Compromising and thinking differently in a challenging situation. If one person expects another to change their behaviour, they should be willing to change themselves – a happy middle ground should be achievable.
- Asking those in the team with exceptional time management skills to share best practice.
- Encouraging leaders and managers to take regular breaks from their desks. They’ll be leading by example to create a healthy work culture. Have meetings in different places – while taking a walk, or in a café or less formal setting.
Not every initiative will work for everyone. To get it right, why not ask your staff what will work for them? This will also make them feel included in the decision-making process.
In association with Westfield Health, the IoD provides members with access to exclusive health cash plans and health-related resources to help companies through the process and provide comprehensive guidance for HR professionals. To find out more, please call +44 (0)114 250 2385 or visit iod.com/healthplan