Over 27,000 NHS workers voluntarily resigned between July to September last year alone, the most since data collection began in 2011, with staff warning that burnout, Covid trauma and increasingly unsustainable workloads are overwhelming the workforce.
As the Great Resignation hits, many of those who are left behind are struggling to cope with the increased stress, anxiety and burnout that comes with working too hard and for too long.
In a recent study conducted by FutureLearn, over a tenthof businesses admitted that employees had left the company citing mental health as the primary cause.
Here’s what employers should be doing to help their staff maintain positive mental health, and where to turn if you need support at work.
How many workplaces provide mental health support?
In response to the pandemic, more and more UK businesses are committing greater efforts and finances to supporting their employees’ mental health. A new survey by FutureLearn of 1,000 key decision makers in business found that the majority of UK businesses did not have any mental health support in place before the pandemic.
Over one in fivebusiness leaders state they would be willing to re-evaluate their mental health policies in light of pandemic.
The number of businesses with mental health support policies in place increased by 10 per cent, and at least two in five of those have already put in place online counselling for employees.
Just over half of those surveyed by FutureLearn agreed that mental health first aiders are as important as physical first aiders or fire marshals within the workplace.
What can employers do to support employee mental health?
There are plenty of “small, inexpensive adjustments,” says Emma Mamo, head of workplace wellbeing at Mind.
People returning to the office may be facing commuting on busier public transport and also being close to people who have chosen not to wear masks, which may cause anxiety. One way workplaces can support their staff is offering flexible working hours to allow staff to avoid a busy commute. Mind also suggests subsidised exercise classes and generous holiday allowances “can make a huge difference to employees.”
Mamo recommends using Mind’s Wellness Action Plans, available for free online. She said: “Drawn up with your manager, these tailored plans can allow you to identify your individual triggers for stress and poor mental health and outline what can help prevent or alleviate symptoms .”
Training courses such as Mental Health First Aid or those available from Mind can provide employers and employees with a better understanding and awareness. There is currently no legal requirement for allocated mental health first aiders in workplaces, though there is a requirement for physical first aiders or fire marshalls.
Mental health first aiders or champions are team members who are specifically trained in mental health awareness and on what to do if one of their colleagues needs support with their mental health. They are also trained on how to recognise when someone needs help, which is particularly important when the person suffering may not have acknowledged it themselves.
“Because our physical and mental health go hand in hand, we would like to see training given the same priority as physical first aid within workplaces, so that staff know what to do if a colleague is experiencing mental health problems, or a mental health crisis,” says Mamo.
The benefits of a four day work week on employee mental health are increasingly being discussed and investigated. Leading doctor John Ashton has called for a shorter working week, saying that it would help to address mental ill-health associated with overwork and burnout, and lead to greater job satisfaction and higher productivity.
Where can employers find resources to support their employees’ mental health?
Mental health charity Mind offers a range of free, online classes to raise awareness of different mental health conditions and equip managers to support employees experiencing these, as well as support positive mental health in their teams.
The charity also offers virtual training for employers and employees via Zoom which includes tips for conversations about mental health with employees.
FutureLearn also provides support to businesses and HR professionals who want to improve workplace mental health training, including a Covid-19: Psychological First Aid course. The training organisation also encourages employers to consider implementing further policies.
The benefits of prioritising employee mental health and wellbeing
According to Mind, organisations that prioritise employee wellbeing have workers who are more productive, loyal, and less likely to take time off sick.
“With poor mental health rife across the nation, supporting staff wellbeing has never been a greater priority for employers,” said Mamo
The legal requirements of supporting mental health at work
Under the Equality Act 2010, employees who disclose they experience a disability, including mental health problems that have substantial effects on your day-to-day activities, are legally entitled to reasonable adjustments.
These could include more regular catch-ups with managers, change of workspace, working hours, or breaks.
Mamo said: “We want employers to create an environment where staff feel able to talk openly about stress and poor mental health at work, including any issues they’re facing – whether personal, professional or a combination.”
How to talk to your colleagues about their mental health
If you’re worried about a colleague, ask them how they’re doing, listen non-judgmentally, be supportive and signpost to support both internally and externally.
Mamo said: “Try to avoid making assumptions about your colleague’s mental health and how it might impact on their work. People with mental health problems can and do make a valuable contribution to the workplace, but some may need some extra support.”
How to ask your boss for support with your mental health
It can feel challenging to open up to your boss for the first time.
Ideally, your manager or supervisor would create a space for you to talk about any issues you’re facing – personal or professional – by regularly checking in with staff or by including a ‘temperature check’ in meetings to examine the current measures in place to support mental wellbeing.
If your manager doesn’t create the space for you to be able to talk about wellbeing, it can be more difficult to start this dialogue. It depends on the relationship you have with your manager, but if you have a good relationship and trust them, you could meet them one to one to discuss what’s going on. Having someone from HR present will make the meeting more formal, and normally wouldn’t be necessary in the first instance. But if you didn’t get anywhere with the first meeting then it might be a sensible next step.
If you’re thinking of speaking to your boss for the first time, also think about where you want the meeting to take place
If you don’t get anywhere with your managers and HR team, or if you are treated differently, demoted or even lose your job because of disclosing a mental health problem, seek advice from Acas or Mind’s legal line – 0300 466 6463 (lines open Mon-Fri, 9am-6pm or email firstname.lastname@example.org.).
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