Mental health at work - how employers can make a difference
Posted Monday 16 May 2011
Looking after the physical and psychological health of employees should be of paramount importance to employers. The people who work for them are arguably their most important asset and should be looked after. It’s just good business sense. Physical and psychological health are equally important, as indeed are the working environment and the job. Employers should be vigilant in safeguarding their employees.
Mental ill health is a real and present issue for all employers, with one in six employees experiencing stress, anxiety or depression at some time at an estimated cost to the UK economy of £26bn pa. Mental ill health costs employers when employees are off work sick as well as those who come into work when unwell (an estimated £15bn pa).
The benefits of looking after employees are significant. Fit and happy employees with good jobs will be more engaged, their effort and creativity is likely to be higher and they are less likely to have accidents. Let’s face it – who wants to work in a bad workplace? Employers don’t have to take on huge costly health programmes to help manage mental ill health – simple, small steps can be very effective.
Start with culture. Recognising the issues around mental ill health is a great start. Get a dialogue going. Have people discussing and talking about it in an open and honest way. Look at educating managers and staff about mental health. Bust the myths and don’t be afraid to talk about it. The recent TV campaign Time to talk was a brilliant approach to dealing with the stigma and fear that surrounds mental ill health. With better understanding and a positive culture, managers can feel comfortable talking with employees about their condition, to help them with their job and ensure they are able to work in the best way for them
Programmes promoting positive health in the workplace can have a spin off for mental health too. Look at wellbeing as an approach. This can capture many aspects of employee health at and away from work. It can include on-site health promotions but doesn’t always have to. Your local NHS trust or, if you have one, occupational health provider may be able to help with promotional materials and may even be able to come on site.
This can be very low cost for employers and many don’t realise the amount of support that is already out there. Get employees involved. What works best is usually the things they want to do rather than being told what’s best for them. Create a buzz around health and wellbeing and it’ll evolve into a positive culture.
Training can go a long way too. Whilst stress is often an issue, a more positive approach is to look at resilience. This frames coping in a way that examines how we cope, what resources and tools are available and allows employees to think about what they use individually to deal with stress. And by sharing people realise its often simple things that work – for instance, talking about pressures. Getting people talking can galvanise them into a positive supportive culture. Social support has been shown to be a major contributor to resilience. A braver move might be to train managers on emotional intelligence, which can get them thinking about their own cognitive processes and the emotions they see in others. It can also help them to develop greater empathy and smart soft skills – differences can make good managers into great ones.
At AXA we take the issue seriously and have put in place programmes to look after employee health, we are introducing resilience workshops for managers, we have an annual health fair, on site health promotions and mind gyms to help people look at their own cognition and how this affects their emotions. We encourage employees to volunteer to help with good causes locally, can also have a positive effect upon psychological health.
Big or small, all employers can do something positive about mental ill health. It doesn’t have to be a grand programme but let’s get talking. Let’s start taking care of business!
Eugene Farrell, business manager of AXA PPP healthcare
|A qualified health economist, Eugene has over twenty years of experience in the UK healthcare arena. He has worked in a variety of roles in both the public and private sectors and, for the past ten years, has specialised in the development and provision of employee support services, including absence management, employee assistance and occupational health services. He has extensive experience in providing health and wellbeing consultancy services to major employers as well as delivering training for managing stress at work, dealing with critical incidents and work life balance.|
Read more about how employers are creating a mentally healthy and open workplace.
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