Four reasons for promoting mental wellbeing at work

Amy Sorrell

Work should be good for you. However, problems linked to poor mental wellbeing are widespread across the working population and affect all organisations within the UK.

The importance of employees being engaged and motivated within an organisation is widely recognised; with full-time employees spending, on average, 40 hours or more at work each week, there is an undeniable business case for promoting mental health within the workplace. Many organisations already understand the benefits that can be gained from a healthy, happy workforce. So, what does focusing upon psychological health offer above and beyond current wellbeing strategies?

#1 Reduced levels of absenteeism

In 2005 the World Health Organisation proposed that there can be “no health without mental health”, saying that psychological health is an essential part of an individual’s overall wellbeing. The complex interaction between mental and physical health means that poor psychological health not only results in employee absences as a direct result of their mental wellbeing (i.e. stress, depression, and anxiety) but also increases the occurrence of physical health conditions, causing additional absences.

The CIPD’s annual absence management survey (2015) reported the average cost of employee absence to be approximately £550 per employee per year.  Apart from the emotional cost to individuals, teams and organisations, the financial aspect of these absences is hitting companies hard.

Case Study: BT implemented a mental wellbeing strategy that focused on prevention, protection, and intervention, which encouraged their employees to make just small changes in lifestyle. The aim was to help the employees’ mindsets move from one of dependency to interdependency by giving them the tools to be able to help themselves. The result? A 30% reduction in mental health-related absence as well as a return to work rate of 75% for employees absent for over six months (IOSH, 2015).

#2 Increased performance

Poor mental wellbeing has been found to have a negative impact on job performance.  Losses in productivity happen because of employees working at reduced levels due to poor health, which is known as ‘presenteeism’. Presenteeism occurs when employees attend work but due to these issues, they are unable to function effectively, the impact of which is thought to be 7 times higher than that of absenteeism.

Research into work environments, employee stress and productivity have found the strongest predictor of productivity in the workplace to be employee’s psychological wellbeing.

#3 Turnover and organisational commitment

Psychological wellbeing has also been shown to impact levels of staff turnover.

A report by Oxford Economics (2016) calculated the average cost of replacing a member of staff to be £30,000 to an organisation, including the cost of the recruitment and training.

A review by PricewaterhouseCoopers (2008) of UK workplace wellbeing programmes, found several case studies where the implementation of programmes involving mental wellbeing strategies, such as counselling and stress management, resulted in a reduction in staff turnover.  Furthermore, perceptions of organisational support can foster person-organisation fit; the degree to which the values of the organisation match that of the employee. This can lead to increased commitment and decreased turnover.

#4 Raises your company profile

In addition to retaining high quality staff, organisations who invest in their employees’ wellbeing have found that it helps to raise that company’s profile and consequently attract new employees.  Shifts in the labour market mean there is an increased demand for high quality candidates. Organisations that promote positive wellbeing by reducing stressful working environments and supporting their staff during times of personal difficulty, gain a significant advantage over their competitors by building a positive reputation.

Tips to Improve Employee Psychological Wellbeing:

Tip 1: Connect with your employees: Create a culture of openness by speaking regularly to employees to see how they are getting on. Are they having a hard time? Do they need support? The charity Mind recommend a culture of openness as it allows the following:

  • the promotion of open dialogue to promote new attitudes and behaviours;
  • helping to normalise conversations about mental health; and
  • helping employees to think about their own and their colleagues’ mental wellbeing and what affects this.

Tip 2: Allow employees to take ownership and control of where and how they work: High workloads and/or lack of control over work can be a trigger for stress and poor mental wellbeing within the workplace. Research shows that increasing the level of control an employee has acts as a buffer to stress caused by high demands at work. Levels of control can be increased by:

  • encouraging employees to use their strengths and skills to complete their work;
  • encouraging employees to develop their skills where possible to give them a sense of mastery and achievement;
  • allowing employees the choice of when they want to take their breaks; and
  • consulting employees over their work patterns and the tasks they are set.

Tip 3: Promote work-life balance in the workplace: Helping people to get a work-life balance benefits both the employee and the organisation. It enhances the organisation’s capabilities by increasing resilience, job satisfaction, organisation loyalty and commitment, and work productivity. Simple steps can be taken to achieve this, such as:

  • ensuring employees take regular breaks;
  • allowing flexible working, which not only empowers employees, but also reduces unnecessary absence;
  • providing technology such as laptops and mobile phones that allow individuals mobility; and
  • ensuring the image that the company culture is projecting is an image of work-life balance and that managers are leading by example.