With workplace stress estimated to cost the EU economy up to €20 billion a year, many companies have realised that far from being a luxury, investment in workplace wellbeing is something that they can’t afford to ignore. Stressed out workers take more sick days, are less engaged, less productive and are more likely to burn out.[i] ADP’s recent study, The Workforce View in Europe 2017, found that only 68% of UK employees are satisfied at work. This suggests that workplace stress and unhappiness are serious issues for UK businesses. Working to prevent and reduce employee stress should be a key part of every HR professional’s strategy.
Contrary to popular belief, stress isn’t always a bad thing. It can be motivational and productive in small doses, but experienced too severely and too often, it can lead to serious health problems – both mental and physical. Employers therefore have a responsibility to help employees manage their stress levels, be aware of the signs of excessive stress and provide the support for employees, if and when they need it. It’s also vital that mental health isn’t stigmatised in the workplace, so employees feel open in coming forward with any potential issues.
It can be useful to consult the primary, secondary and tertiary forms of mental illness prevention when developing wellbeing and stress awareness initiatives.
- Primary prevention, according to the WHO, aims to prevent a disease or problem from arising in the first place. In an organisational wellbeing strategy, this can look like anything from arranging team-building away days, to encouraging workers not to look at their emails in the evenings and weekends, allowing flexible working, or discouraging a long hours’ culture. Indeed, in France, the ‘right to disconnect’ has now become law, highlighting the importance of such initiatives to the health of the workforce.
- Secondary prevention focuses on limiting the severity of a disease; and so for mental health, entails noticing when an employee is struggling, and taking steps to help them quickly. Fast detection and intervention to support an employee – such as taking steps to assist them with any problems at work – can mitigate their stress and prevent more serious issues from arising for them in the future.
- Tertiary prevention, meanwhile, targets an advanced recovery from a mental health issue, as well as prevention of further relapses. This should be tailored to the individual, and will involve both parties working together closely to ensure that the worker feels supported and enabled to return to work, and to be open about any issues that come up that may trigger a relapse for them in the long-term.
As well as focusing on the prevention of mental illness, HR policies should also proactively promote good mental health, through mindfulness, exercise and regular breaks and holidays from work. This proactive approach not only improves the quality of life of employees, it also promotes an open and supportive mental health culture, and has a positive impact on productivity, engagement and the culture of the organisation overall.
Combining preventative and promotional mental health strategies is essential for improving workplace wellbeing, which in turn will have a positive impact on company culture and absenteeism levels. As the world becomes ever more connected and complex, monitoring mental health and working to improve it is more important than ever.