Knowledge & Insight

Mental wellbeing in the workplace

Fri 5 May 2017

As firms in every sector face growing pressure to meet tough targets, comply with changing regulations, and rise to the challenge of an increasingly globalized marketplace, the mental health of employees at all levels has come under heightened pressure. Yet thankfully, awareness around the importance of good mental health in the workplace has grown significantly in recent years, due in part to a number of high-profile publications, such as Business in the Community’s National Employee Mental Wellbeing Survey, and  Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing Index. And crucially, the business case for addressing the issue is becoming increasingly clear.

From reactive management to proactive support

All organisations rely on an effective and productive workforce, and employees are generally more effective and productive when they feel their work is valued and meaningful, when they are well supported, and when they have clear, achievable goals - and all these factors are entirely consistent with supporting good mental health. Employers are increasingly recognising the value of supporting their people with a range of initiatives, and there has been a sizeable shift away from reactive management of mental health issues, to proactive support, enhanced engagement and powerful preventive measures.

Breaking down barriers

Of course, there is still a long way to go, and in some sectors, mental health remains largely a taboo subject. In 2014, a poll by mental health charity Mind revealed that 95% of people forced to take time off due to workplace stress did not feel they were able to tell their employer the real reason for their absence. So there is a great deal of work to do in breaking down the barriers that remain, and enabling staff to be open and honest with their employers, so that they can access the appropriate support and return to work as quickly as possible – which ultimately, is in the best interests of all parties.

Defining mental wellbeing

The World Health Organization defines mental wellbeing as the state “in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”

Mind’s definition provides greater detail, stating that people with good mental wellbeing are able to: feel relatively confident and have positive self-esteem; build and maintain good relationships with others; live and work productively; cope with the stresses of daily life; and adapt and manage in time of change and uncertainty.

A problem of epidemic proportions

This final point in Mind’s definition is highly relevant, as we all face growing uncertainty over our futures. Greater innovation, faster technological advancement and rapid social development are driving huge changes in many aspects of our lives, not just in the workplace. So it’s no surprise that the number of people affected by mental health issues is so high. According to figures released by Deloitte, in any 12-month period, more than 1 in 6 UK workers will suffer from a mental health condition, and with a total working population of around 31 million, this equates to over 5 million people. Which means it is an issue of pressing concern to all UK employers, and although there have been a number of new initiatives launched in recent years, there’s still a good deal of catching up to do.

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