The number of individuals suffering from mental health issues in the workplace has soared over the past few years, and there are reams of evidence to suggest that work-related stress can have a severe, negative impact on employees’ mental state. As such, there has been a big rise in attempts to implement wellbeing initiatives such as mindfulness (which has steadily become somewhat of a “buzzword”) recently, in a hope to combat the detrimental effects of mental health issues on business performance.
The Real Cost of Mental Health at Work
As it stands, mental health problems at work are said to cost British employers between £33 billion and £42 billion a year, according to the Thriving At Work report published in 2017, so there is certainly a business case for implementing workplace wellbeing programmes.
But are the organisations that are trying to execute these initiatives going about it in the right way? Some claim to have “tried and failed” in their efforts to improve employee wellbeing through testing such practices in the workplace, resulting in people questioning the value or effectiveness of these programmes. This worrying concept is summarised in an article published by the BBC, questioning whether wellbeing interventions really do help improve mental health outcomes.
In this article, the Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Dame Sally Davies states that:
“Investing in wellbeing programmes without the evidence to support them is a ‘leap of faith’ which can’t be justified under current public health funding limitations.”
While we respect this view, we feel as though a proposal to invest only in mental health treatment is almost certain to backfire in the long run, as more and more people seek help for their mental health problems resulting from stress and poor wellbeing at work.
Indeed, there is strong evidence to suggest that, by taking preventative action to combat mental and physical health problems, employers can help to reduce issues such as absenteeism and presenteeism which end up costing the economy a fortune.
Identifying the Right Solution for Your Business
The real priority here is to ensure that the measures being taken by businesses are the right ones; many employers are still uncertain as to how to go about implementing workplace wellbeing programmes, often investing in certain practices on a whim because they “seem like a good idea.”
For instance, efforts such as installing “healthy” vending machines in the office, or taking out a weekly fruit basket subscription are unlikely to have much impact on employees’ eating habits unless they also have educational seminars that will explain how these healthier food choices will impact on their energy levels, concentration and stress resilience. What’s more, if there are other underlying issues at play affecting employee wellbeing, such as being under a lot of pressure, not sleeping enough or working without breaks, nutritional interventions alone are going to make very little difference to employee wellbeing and productivity.
The only way to ensure an investment will be fruitful is to carefully tailor wellbeing programmes to employees’ needs through identifying problems at their core (which can be achieved through carrying out wellbeing audits, for example), developing and implementing the most effective strategy, and measuring the impact such initiatives are having on the physical and mental health of employees over time.
A 360º Approach to Workplace Wellbeing
This brings us onto the importance of a 360° approach to employee wellbeing, and it is only in taking this stance that businesses can truly expect to reap the rewards of investing in workplace wellbeing programmes.
Consider stress management skills workshops; despite being a popular wellbeing intervention which many firms have introduced, this approach is likely to have a limited impact on employee productivity if, for example, there are major team dynamic and management problems in the workplace. If this is the case, stress management sessions alone cannot be expected to resolve all issues nor positively impact ROI, and team development interventions would be a higher priority.
Reiterating the importance of a 360°approach once more, some employees may simply not be able to relate to the concept of mindfulness, in the same way that some may be reluctant to participate in laughter and play sessions or practise yoga, for example. If this is the case, different approaches must be explored in addition to techniques such as mindfulness.
Don’t Walk Away from Wellbeing
Only through raising awareness of the benefits of a holistic, all-encompassing approach to workplace wellbeing can we effectively start combating the associated shocking statistics that continue to rocket year on year. As concluded by the aforementioned article:
“Walking away from wellbeing may mean a re-medicalisation of mental health at a policy level. Focusing efforts on hospital beds, medication and therapies, it is argued, could be at the expense of a more holistic approach – that of having positive experiences and a fulfilling life.”
If you’d like assistance in preventing and combating employee mental health issues in your organisation, get in touch. We can provide you with a 360° wellbeing programme tailored to your employees’ needs, resulting in a happier, more productive workforce which could ultimately save you a lot of money in the long run.