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Beth Abel

Published on

May 30, 2024


mental health

Recent years have seen the rise of mental health awareness and acceptance. Stiff upper lips have loosened, as conversations about the challenges faced by many become increasingly commonplace – including at work. This an important step in breaking the stigma. And with 58% of employees in the UK experiencing symptoms of anxiety alone, it’s a necessary one.

Issues with mental health remain prevalent in our society. Alongside the toll this takes on affected individuals, employers and work colleagues are impacted too. Recent research by Vitality found that Gen Z and young millennials are taking the equivalent of one day off per week due to mental health concerns. Meanwhile, stress, depression and anxiety account for the majority of UK sick leave taken in 2022/23, at 17.1 million days.

Mental health issues, coupled with burnout and work-related stress, cost the UK economy £28 billion annually. Businesses who wish to carry a healthy workforce toward a prosperous future must consider the role they play in making that a reality. There is no fix-all solution for eradicating the challenge. But organisations can prioritise the wellbeing of their people. And, subsequently, themselves.

Smash the stigma

Unfair, unfounded perceptions around mental health have existed for centuries. They’re difficult to dismantle. But heightened awareness in recent years has proven that it’s not impossible to change. Employers that strive towards an inclusive and informed workforce have a responsibility to actively foster this. Organising educational, expert-led talks on relevant topics is one way to both broaden perspectives and recognise those facing difficulties.

To provide support across the areas that matter most to their team, some employers create a digital space where anonymous requests for company-wide support or further sessions can be made. Meanwhile, mental health first aiders are crucial in providing ongoing, on-the-ground support for fellow employees. They are also trained to identify when someone may be struggling.

Spot the signs

This is far easier said than done. But a big factor in successfully spotting the signs comes down to paying attention to slight changes in people’s behaviour. Do they seem more quiet or anxious in meetings than usual? Has the quality of their work suffered? Have they been taking more time off than usual? Are they avoiding coming into the office? Answering yes to any of these questions isn’t hard evidence that someone is facing mental health challenges, of course. But changes to typical behaviours can be indicative.

Times are challenging. However, if there is an expectation for employees to adopt an ‘always on’ attitude – answering messages out of hours or striving to meet unrealistic demands – this can have a negative impact. In some extreme cases it can even cause burnout. Employers that are successful in mitigating declining mental health among team members don’t wait for employees to approach them. Instead, they anticipate and intervene.

Serve individual needs

Historically, UK workers have kept their personal and professional lives separate. But in an ever more connected world, they have a knock-on effect on each other. From breakups to moving house, illness to loss, challenging life events can impact mental health. While the employee’s focus of attention is on their personal issue, work naturally drops down their list of priorities. When businesses understand and empathise with this reality, they are better placed to support their employee through difficult times.

This might involve empowering employees to work in a way that suits their current needs. For example, if someone is experiencing anxiety, they may be uncomfortable travelling into the office every day. Employers could consider the feasibility of them working from home more or offer some flexibility in terms of their hours. Something as simple as avoiding rush hour travel could make a difference to their day. Businesses might also ask an employee what they need to help them, rather than making assumptions. In doing so, they position themselves as a safe, open space where open conversations are encouraged, and support is guaranteed.

Younger generations are rising through the ranks. The workforce is becoming less inclined to suffer in silence. Only companies who adopt a forward-thinking and compassionate approach to mental health issues are likely to thrive. In doing so, they are not only supporting the health of the economy, but most importantly, the health of the people that allow them to flourish in a turbulent world.


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