Work

How to ensure your mental wellbeing policy genuinely works for your employees

If you asked employees what makes them stay in a job and what attracts them to a new opportunity, you could be forgiven for thinking that the usual answers of a good salary, free breakfast and a new laptop would top the list. The answer, however, couldn’t be further from the truth: employees are engaged by and remain happy in workplaces that take mental wellbeing seriously. 

Benenden Health recently surveyed over 1,000 employers and more than 1,000 employees to better understand the provision of mental wellbeing policies and support amongst organisations of different sizes and within different sectors, throughout the UK.

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Benenden Health’s Mental Wellbeing Report 2020

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The truth of the matter is that 42% of businesses have seen an employee resign because their mental wellbeing wasn’t being supported well enough by their bosses. Behind this lies 58% of employees who indicated that work had negatively impacted their mental wellbeing at some point. Its apparent that many employees put mental wellbeing support high on their agenda, however this doesn’t necessarily correlate with their perception of how well their employers are dealing with this need.

Whilst 54% of respondents indicated that a lack of support for mental wellbeing would lead them to seek alternative employment – and 57% said that a supportive mental wellbeing policy would increase their likelihood of joining a business – only 36% felt that mental wellbeing is a big priority for their employer and feel that they genuinely care about their mental wellbeing. Despite the fact that more than half of employees have suffered from poor mental wellbeing, which they have attributed – at least partially – to work.

But why don’t employees feel comfortable discussing their mental wellbeing in the workplace? The answer lies in fears around how they, and their ability to do their job, will be perceived by their employer. Over a third of employees feel that people will think they can’t do their job, another third feel there’s a stigma around talking about how you feel, and just under a third are worried people will treat them differently whilst just under a fifth are concerned they’ll lose their job. It’s clear that employees may be putting up with conditions that are less than favourable to their mental wellbeing in order to uphold their perception in the workplace.

From a compassionate perspective, we would urge employers to support their employees, whose silence isn’t necessarily indicative of good wellbeing. Equally, from a business perspective, the loss of key talent, the cost of recruitment and the time required to bring a new member of the team up to scratch all tell us that investing in your workforce’s mental wellbeing can only be a shrewd decision – and one that’ll become more keenly felt as businesses replan and start to recruit in response to COVID-19. It’s worth noting that of those businesses who revealed that they had lost team members on account of poor support for their mental wellbeing, 25% told us that the person who resigned was extremely valuable to the organisation.

A mental wellbeing strategy that works

The measures you choose to implement should be seen as the building blocks of your mental wellbeing strategy; but the glue that holds these blocks together is you, your management team and the tone you set – as any initiative you do is futile if the relationship between managers and their team is poor with little or no trust. Every strategic decision made on this score needs to consider the culture of the organisation and any micro cultures that some managers could be fostering.

For example, if you decide that your organisation would benefit from free counselling, you could encourage uptake of this service by making it available both during and outside of working hours. Some colleagues may prefer to talk on their own time whilst others may feel that they can’t at home. For in-hours counselling a private space, for a one-to-one or a phone call, will reinforce that the support is genuinely available throughout the working day.

Perhaps Mental Health First Aiders have already been discussed as a vital part of delivering your strategy. If so, don’t expect your designated staff to take on this role readily equipped with the tools to identify and address cases of jeopardised mental wellbeing; give them all the training and support they might need so that they take this responsibility and make a difference to their colleagues. Also, make sure your Mental Health First Aiders represent all demographics and characteristics of your organisation.

If mental wellbeing days are discussed, your team needs to know that it’s really OK to tell you they are taking sick leave because of their mental health, rather than physical health. How you deliver this message needs to be consistent and repeated. It’s important to set the tone that in order to really support the wellbeing of your people you need to understand the problem first, so honesty is the key and it will be met with support and no reprisal.

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Don’t forget about recognition

Your strategy shouldn’t just focus on the things you need in place to help if and when your employees are having problems with mental wellbeing. Thinking about what you can do to positively encourage mental wellbeing pays dividends, too. In fact, it can be the support that makes the difference between happiness and unhappiness.

Wholeheartedly encouraging shout-outs between colleagues and from managers to their team members makes a lot of difference. Recent research tells us that 80% of employees feel happiest at work if they feel appreciated. You may choose to formalise your thank-yous into a monthly rewards and recognition scheme, or the roll-out could look a lot simpler: how about a Monday motivation thank you in your weekly planning huddle?

Delivering change for the better

To deliver an effective mental wellbeing policy, the change that must be made is attitudinal. It would appear that many employees have invested time and infrastructure into a variety of measures designed to promote better mental wellbeing. Our survey revealed that amongst our employers’ policies:

  • 42% offer help and support from management
  • 41% regularly review workload to ensure it’s manageable;
  • 32% changed the working environment such as lighting, equipment;
  • 31% offer free counselling;
  • 28% have mental wellbeing days in place;
  • 24% lay on exercise and activity classes;
  • 24% have a confidential helpline; and
  • 21% have Mental Health First Aiders.

There are two key points here: firstly, we would love to see many more employers investing in as many of these measures as is feasible. Secondly, when employees feel unsupported notwithstanding these measures, it comes down to culture. With all of the help available and zero communication around it being OK and – in fact – encouraged for all members of the team to access this help, the initiatives will fail. Conversely, companies with limited budgets, who go down just one or two routes but bolster this with effective communication, can make real headway into improving the mental wellbeing of their employees.

Encourage a conversation about mental wellbeing

Putting structures in place to remind you and everyone to communicate is a great way to prompt positive change. You could:

  • Commit to a monthly internal roundup or newsletter, so that you have the space and time to signpost that support that is on offer for everyone within the team
  • Ask all team members to block out an hour of their time each month to work on a personal wellness plan, in which they can detail what they need from the business should they feel in a position of deteriorating mental wellbeing. The self-reflection required from this task will encourage mindfulness into better working practices and better communication all round. Encourage employees to share their plan with their manager to help them understand where to look for signs that things may not be ok
  • Arrange for seminars around keeping well, communicating needs and working in ways that are more conducive to mental wellbeing

All of the above are great conversation starters  which are the beginning of doing away with the stigma that still plagues mental wellbeing. If employers can encourage their team to be open about what’s on their mind, they must meet that openness with a willingness to listen. This is where training for all people managers is crucial, whose emerging confidence in tackling mental wellbeing will see them approached just as readily – if not more so – than your Mental Health First Aiders. 

We would be more than happy to share our research with you in more detail, so please do get in touch. Call us FREE on 0800 414 8179, or alternatively, you can download the full Mental Wellbeing in the Workplace Report 2020 here.

Find out how Benenden Healthcare for Business could support your employees

Got a question and want to know more? Call us FREE on 0800 414 8179.