Despite one in four employees having had time off work due to stress or personal problems, mental health initiatives in the workplace remain chronically under-resourced. In comparison, physical health initiatives have flourished in recent years, helping to improve the employer-employee relationship.
Health and wellbeing are often linked to productivity. Therefore, in order remain profitable, employers must embrace an all-encompassing approach to health at work. Physical problems can be a lot easier to plan for than invisible health issues, such as stress. That said, employers have the same duty of care when it comes to mental health as they do with the physical, but surprisingly, support for employee mental wellbeing can be overlooked.
There is strong evidence to support the correlation between productivity and wellbeing. If workers are unwell, either mentally or physically, they will be less productive and, if left unsupported, this can lead to presenteeism, and even long-term absence.
For UK business leaders, productivity, or the lack of it, is understandably a key concern. Calculated from the output per hour by workers, productivity is a significant driver for economic growth. According to the latest report by the Office of National Statistics, the UK remains 15.1 per cent behind the G7 average. There is more that can be done to help combat this crisis and influence productivity – and employee wellbeing should be top of the list.
Our recent report Breaking the Cycle gives a devastating insight into the current struggles being faced in the workplace and uncovers how professional and personal stress-triggers are directly leading to mental health issues and absenteeism. The survey found that one in four employees have taken time off work in the past year due to stress-related problems, which is having a major impact on workplace productivity. Our key concern is that more than half of respondents admit they feel unable to approach their employer with these issues.
Physical health vs mental health
Gym memberships, health screenings and lunchtime yoga sessions are now an expected part of an employee benefits package, which is encouraging to see. However, when compared with mental wellbeing, 83 per cent of employees revealed they receive no support of this kind from their employer. Our findings therefore demonstrate that physical health initiatives are being prioritised over mental health and this lack of support could be having a detrimental effect in the workplace.
Worryingly, it seems that the stigma attached to mental health is still prevalent in the workplace. When we look at the differences between mental health and physical, the majority of respondents stated they feel more comfortable approaching their employer with a physical health problem (69%), than with an issue related to their mental wellbeing (48%).
Is the problem of mental health being hidden? We suspect that a large number of employees with a mental health issue are approaching their employer with a physical problem, masking the mental health issue they have, as they are worried about approaching the subject.
Time for a culture change
The uncomfortable truth is that over half the working population would not inform their employer about a mental health problem and the reasons for this are clear. Employees believe, rightly or wrongly, that their employer would either lack empathy, or that they would not receive the support they need. Our findings demonstrate that the approach to mental and physical health is not equal, and this directly impacts the employee’s perception. The attitude towards mental wellbeing therefore lies in the hands of the employer. By taking a more proactive approach, the barriers that appear to still exist in the workplace may be dismantled – creating a more resilient and productive workforce.
Employee wellness and wellbeing is vital for business success. Essentially, if employees are healthy, happy and engaged, they perform better, are more focused and efficient, and reduce costs and risk for organisations. There are many ways employers can influence and improve this within the workplace environment.
It is becoming more evident that providing employees with easy access to personalised support for their health and wellbeing is key to building a strong, resilient workforce.
Business leaders have much to be gained by taking a proactive approach to employee wellbeing. Showing a clear commitment to employee wellness will help to create a positive and productive environment, in which employees will thrive.
The Breaking the Cycle report is available to download here
Brian Hall is Chief commercial officer at the BHSF
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