Would you consider your employees to be in good mental health? It is, perhaps, a simple question to ask and answer. My employees come in, they smile, they get their work done, and they go home. Simple.
But consider this: would it surprise you to learn that only 13% of people report living with high levels of good mental health?
According to The Mental Health Foundation’s latest report ‘Surviving or Thriving?’, which takes a look into the state of mental health within the UK, the majority of us have, are or will suffer from some form of mental health problems during our lives. Now, arguably, these worrying figures could be attributable to our widening classification and understanding of mental health.
After all, what we consider to be crippling condition today would likely have been deemed ‘weak’ or ‘feeble minded’ 20 years ago.
But when you consider that, whatever your take on how these stats have come to pass, it means that of the 31m estimated workers in the UK today, only around 4m of them would consider themselves to be in good mental health. And what this means for UK businesses, is that actually the vast majority of employees will be suffering from mental health concerns in one form or another.
Only 13% of people report living with high levels of good mental health.
Now whilst mental health conditions can range from everything from mild anxiety to crippling depression and potentially life-threatening conditions, such as self-harming or anorexia, it does leave a very real problem which needs to be addressed.
If, for instance, I told you that 75% of your staff were going blind due to poor lighting or equipment, then you would make the relevant changes without question (hopefully). So why shouldn’t it be the same when it comes to triggering and treating issues related to mental health?
One of the biggest themes to come out of this month’s annual Mental Health Awareness Week, was the impact of the workplace environment on us as individuals and how we should begin to see mental health in a similar way to physical wellbeing, and treat it as such.
But, as much as Prince Harry and numerous other public figures can come out and champion change in how we view mental health, this visionary approach is something which can only be implemented directly within the workplace.
I’ve written previously about the ability of an individual to express their ‘authentic self’ impacting wellbeing in the workplace, and the same is true for the way we approach the idea of a job as a whole. Despite huge advances in the way we manage people within organisations, job roles are still offered out in a fairly standard, one-size-fits-all approach. And as a result, everyone of a certain level or title is often viewed in a very similar way and held to the same expectations.
Now whilst this might benefit the business as a whole, meaning that everyone know which team member is able to do what, it does leave out the ‘human’ element of human resourcing.
People, unlike machines, are not capable of working to exactly the same pace, level, pressure, or demand; and yet, we are not currently able to openly push back at work on the grounds of protecting our own mental health.
I’ve worked with a number of people in the past, both young and experienced, who have become so incredibly burnt out by the pressures of their job – and not being able to push back without fear of repercussion – that it has agitated existing issues to the point of deeply effecting their physical health, and eventually causing them to leave their jobs.
Despite the progress which have been made in how we talk about and address these issues over the years, until this stigma of mental health as weakness shifts, and we recognise that, especially in the workplace, enough sometimes has to be enough – then things will never truly change.
Now the cynical among you reading this may well say, “but if I implement this as a reason to push back on work or call in sick, then I’ll never see my workforce”, and you may have a point. There will always be those who use any loophole to call in sick if they really want to, but that may indicate a deeper problem with your business rather than your staff.
But that one less project, that day off, or simply that understanding manager who supports rather than shuns someone truly suffering, could mean the difference between a talented member of staff thriving in your workplace, or simply surviving until they break.
Issues around mental health, wellness and mindfulness continue to grow in importance, both on the national and international stage, it’s going to become an issue which is increasingly important to employees – in a similar way to other Health and Safety concerns.
And implementing health policies which address these issues, setting time aside to bond teams and address concerns, and offering senior level support to those who truly need it; will become an expectation, both from employees and likely government bodies as well.
As authority figures such as Dame Carroll Black continue to champion mental health in the media, and recognise workplaces who support this support – through programmes like Britain’s Healthiest Company Awards – the option for business leaders and HR managers is not ‘is mental health really something we need to address?’, but rather ‘do we want to be seen as championing our employees’ health, rather than just towing the line when/if it becomes law?’.