A priority for organisations should be mental wellbeing support for employees as multiple studies reveal a deterioration in mental health and wellbeing during the pandemic. In addition, recent reports are showing a link between poor mental health and the cost of living crisis.
The latest Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) report Health and Wellbeing at Work 2022 highlights an increase in stress and mental health issues with mental ill health the most common cause of long-term absence.
There is no doubt that a happy, healthy workforce is more productive than a stressed out one. Rajiv Joshi, Vicky Schollar and Debra Gers hosted an Employment Law webinar on 15 March, which focused on ‘managing sickness absence and supporting employee wellbeing’. This proved very popular, showing the importance of mental wellbeing support for employees.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, those who had previously suffered with mental health issues often found that their conditions deteriorated and those who hadn’t suffered with poor mental health before, did so during the pandemic.
A Mental Health Foundation report in January 2023 stated that the impact of the cost of living crisis on public mental health could be on a scale similar to the pandemic.
Managers have a crucial role to play in employee wellbeing support. They need to keep an eye on how that is being managed within the workforce.
If employees are signed off due to mental health issues or stress, it is always best to keep communication lines open for everyone – maintain contact so that the employee is not out of sight and out of mind and they feel supported.
Strategy, culture and resources are key
It is important to have an overall wellbeing strategy in place. This could include improving access to resources, training for managers and mental health first aiders and ensuring that your strategy is based around having conversations with your staff and creating a more open culture. This may include providing training to managers in how to have challenging conversations.
There are some great resources available for organisations to support their employees, these include:
Stress is a big contributor to long-term absence in the workplace so it can pay for employers to invest in a strategy and provide proactive employee wellbeing support.
Mind have Wellness action plans that include frameworks for discussions, training for managers to spot warning signs and how they can help. Ensuring managers can help employees do their job and find out the best way they can support them is essential. There are three Mind action plans: Working in the workplace, Working remotely and Hybrid working. Mind also has top tips for staying well at work.
There is also the HSE’s Talking Tool Kit preventing work-related stress.
An open culture and one of supporting employee wellbeing needs to start at the top. There is a simple business case that having people off work costs organisations money. Senior managers are more likely to support mental health initiatives when they see the business benefits.
Since the pandemic, working from home has added to stress levels for many people. This is sometimes because they found working from home very isolating but also because of the blurred lines between home and work life. Employers have a duty of care towards their staff which means they must do all they reasonably can to support employees’ health, safety and wellbeing which includes physical and mental health. The duty also applies if the individual is working from home. Accordingly, make sure that workloads are realistic, manage expectations about accessing work-related devices out of hours so that employees switch off rather than working long hours, encourage them to take breaks and take holidays. Flexible working can also be a key factor in reducing stress.
Financial worries undoubtedly contribute to stress. It is vital to flag money advice services, as well as mental health resources as both could help employees. Mind have a debt management service. There is also the Money Advice Service, an independent service set up by the Government. It gives free, impartial advice through its online portal, over WhatsApp and over the phone. It’s likely that your EAPs already provide support in relation to financial wellbeing so make sure to remind your staff about this.
Mental health first aiders
Mental health first aiders are not qualified medical people but can have an important part to play. Their purpose is to ensure staff know who to go to if they need or want to talk, to signpost people to resources, internal (intranet) and external (Samaritans, Mind, etc..), and to be the first port of call for someone who doesn't know where to start if they are feeling overwhelmed. Mental Health First Aid England run a course to train first aiders.
Steps organisation could take
- Find out what will work – see what employees want and need, this could be in the form of surveys.
- Think outside the box – run sessions such as online yoga, a book club or a gardening club. Effective sessions would be anything to get people together and have conversations.
- Be alert to warning signs – look out to see if someone is struggling, are they irritable or not functioning as well as they usually do?
- Signpost resources – this could be with signs in the office, the intranet or internal emails.
- Have trained mental health first aiders.
- Put in place HR policies such as a Stress at Work policy or Employee Wellbeing policy and publicise these.
- Make sure that your wellbeing initiatives are covered as part of the induction process.
Finally, also think about how you can measure the effectiveness of your policies and initiatives. Check sickness absence levels to see if they have fallen, get employee feedback, find out the level of engagement at online events and webinars you run. If the level of take up of services offered is low, think about what you can you do to improve this.
If you need legal advice or practical tips for mental wellbeing support for employees and managing sickness absence, speak to one of our specialist employment lawyers.
Enjoy That? You Might Like These: