Workplace Mental Health

Excessive workloads, competing deadlines, the “tyranny” of your office-linked smartphone – perhaps it’s no wonder so many of us feel mentally burnt out. Use Mental Health Awareness Week this month to re-emphasise mental health work-life balance plus the value of support tools such as EAPs.

Employee health and wellbeing – kickstarting the mental health conversation

May 14-20 this month is Mental Health Awareness Week run by the charity Mind, which this year will be focusing on helped employers and employees create more “mentally healthy” workplaces.

And boy is this needed, if a raft of new reports are anything to go by.

First, a study by project management platform Workfront has argued that 60% of UK office workers feel excessive workloads and competing deadlines are contributing to their stress levels.

Four out of five of the 1,000 people polled admitted to feeling “burnt out”, with the majority expecting their stress levels to increase yet further.

Second, more than half of workers aged 25-34 complain they feel unable ever to switch off fully from work because of receiving work-related emails and calls on their smartphones outside of working hours.

The poll of more than 1,000 workers commissioned by Thumbtel found six out of 10 were experiencing “smartphone fatigue” from being unable to separate personal and work-related communications.

‘Always-on’ working

Nearly two-thirds (63%) complained their smartphone was creating an imbalance between their work and personal lives, while more than half (56%) admitted they regularly received work-related calls during holidays, weekends or evenings.

And the situation is not helped by senior managers failing to “walk the walk” when it comes to mental ill-health.

While nearly two-thirds (60%) of UK chief executives said they identified employee mental health as a priority, just one employer in six (16%) had a defined mental health strategy, according to research.

Just 37% of organisations without a mental health strategy said they planned to introduce one in the next 12 months, while a further 26% said they would have one in place by 2020.

So, what should employers make of all this?

The “problem” of mental health is, of course, very much on the public, government and, indeed, management radar right now.

The Workfront study, for example, was published in April, technically to coincide with last month’s National Stress Awareness Month. The fact we have too such similar awareness-raising events so close together is, arguably, no coincidence.

The government’s Improving Lives: the Future of Work, Health and Disability document and the Farmer/Stevenson Thriving at Work review into workplace mental health have both highlighted the priority this issue is receiving within government, even if, in practical terms, little is likely to change overnight.

This, in turn, highlights why proactively addressing mental health needs to be, and is becoming, such a priority for many employers.

It is employers and managers who are on the front line of managing stress and mental ill-health in the workplace and, it is clear, need all the help and tools that can come their way.

It is well-recognised that dealing with stress and mental ill-health – and the stigma and taboos that are still so often associated with it – can be much more challenging than managing a physical injury or illness in an employee.

Value of EAPs

In that context, calendar markers such as Mental Health Awareness Week can be useful in terms of kickstarting a conversation around how best to tackle this directly (in terms of tools and support) and indirectly (in terms of culture, management approach and environment).

One effective, and relatively straightforward, solution can be to invest in an EAP. An EAP, it has to be emphasised, is not a panacea, and should not be thought as a solution that means mental health is now “ticked off” as a problem.

For complex cases in particular, more specialist advice and intervention is still likely to be needed. And, of course, an EAP by itself is unlikely to be able to change your organisational culture.

But an EAP can still be a valuable solution at a number of levels, as Optima Health Chief Medical Officer Dr Lucy Wright outlines.

“An EAP can be a ‘safe’, confidential space where employees can go to open up about how they feel they’re coping (or not) and their mental health.

“It can also be a valuable resource for managers in terms of offering advice around best practice, tools and support and, indeed, when it is time to escalate to more specialised provision.

“More widely, investing in, and offering, an EAP can simply send out a powerful message across your organisation that mental health and wellbeing is something you’re take seriously and are being proactive about. That alone can be invaluable in terms of kickstarting conversations and, in time, attitudinal change,” she highlights.