Employee mental health and wellbeing has become a key topic for conversation throughout the Coronavirus pandemic. However, even before major workplace disruption started in 2020, reporting of stress, anxiety and mental health issues was already on the rise. According to the HSE’s 2019/20 Labour Force Survey (LFS), the number of incidents relating to mental health and wellbeing has been increasing steadily since 2015.
In fact, the survey reports 828,000 workers suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety (new or longstanding), with a total of 17.9 million working days lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2019/20.
Chris Golby, Director at mental health platform, Lumien, highlights how continually monitoring and measuring employee wellbeing not only drives tangible improvements for the workforce but can also unlock productivity and commercial benefits for businesses.
With Investors in People launching its own unique offer to help tackle the impact of COVID; COVID & Wellbeing: Listen, plan & move forward, there is a growing acknowledgement that how we work and interact with others has changed dramatically. The lines between work and home life have blurred and uncertainty about job security and the health of loved ones are impacting on mental health and wellbeing.
Investors in People’s own research, of more than 400 companies from industries as diverse as finance and manufacturing to social care and professional services, found that nine out of 10 of employers are concerned about the wellbeing of their people, and more than six out of 10 have singled out the mental wellbeing of their teams as the biggest concern.
Its Invest in Wellbeing accreditation is dedicated to helping organisations foster a culture that prioritises wellbeing, noting how a healthy workforce is both an ethical priority for businesses and the key to increased productivity and reduced costs associated with sickness and absence.
Creating a culture of mental wellbeing
Addressing the mental health and wellbeing needs of employees should not simply be down to a once or twice a year survey, or worse still, reactive tools such as exit interviews. To be truly effective, activity addressing mental health and wellbeing needs to be part of the everyday culture of an organisation. It needs to be easy to access and rich in data and insight, with the potential to inform positive change and measure the impact of those changes.
If you get the approach right, then you could potentially see an 18% increase in productivity, alongside a reduction in team absences and improved employee retention.
Using inciteful questions and a data led approach, Lumien, a mental health platform that is easily accessible to employees via an app, can drive the everyday use of wellbeing tools as a business strategy. It can also help to understand and confront the underlying causes of stress.
CIPD’s recent report notes that work-related stress and absence have increased over the last year in nearly two-fifths of organisations, with heavy workloads and management styles attributed as the most common causes. While the CIPD has seen a gradual increase in the proportion of organisations taking steps to reduce workplace stress, a third of those reporting an increase in stress-related absence were doing nothing proactive to address it.
What is particularly concerning is the CIPD’s findings that fewer organisations are trying to identify the causes of stress through employee surveys and/or focus groups and, similarly, fewer are using risk assessments and/or stress audits. Less than half of those who report their organisation is taking steps to tackle stress believe their efforts are effective, while one in six report they are ineffective.
However, those taking a continuous improvement approach to well-being programmes with line managers on board were most likely to report their efforts to tackle stress as effective.
Challenging the approach
The reality is, all too often, companies only think ‘it’s time to do something about mental health’ when things have already gone wrong. They’re looking for a quick fix, and often turn to Mental Health First Aid or Employee Assistance Programmes. However, these decisions form a reactive, rather than a proactive approach to tackling the issue.
Other businesses put tools in place to manage mental health, such as offering subscriptions to mindfulness apps or programmes, without any mechanism in place to measure uptake or impact.
Data collection and analysis to inform an effective strategy to address workplace wellbeing can prove challenging. Questionnaires are incredibly difficult to pull together – for example, how do you know if you’re asking the right questions, or if those questions are leading? There’s also a point to make around seasonality – if you ask someone how they feel in January, compared with June, your answers will be very different. The data only offers a snapshot, without any continuous monitoring to inform activities, identify and support those in crisis or provide insight into the impact on productivity.
Without a background in mental health in the workplace, it can be difficult to add strategy and reason behind ‘why’ you’re doing what you’re doing, or to even inform what that strategy should look like in the first place.
It’s important that employers can measure the impact of their well-being initiatives, so they can see what’s working and create an evidence-based strategy that supports continuous improvement, benefitting both the workforce and the bottom line.
People are a company’s most valuable asset. If they are unwell and unproductive, it can impact on the overall performance of the business. Sitting back isn’t an option, especially when you consider that it could be costing you up to £5,459 per employee, per year, based on an average salary of £30,350.
At Lumien, we have been looking at the data from our own platform to assess what has been happening to employee mental health and wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic. It reveals:
By providing an accessible employee check-in system, via tools such as apps, businesses can get monthly reports, rather than just an annual snapshot. This ensures the workplace wellbeing strategy can be updated in line with the latest evidence, which reflects what’s needed in the company, in real-time.
It’s an approach that enables spend from wellbeing budgets to be deployed in a highly targeted way. It’s also a way of enabling employees to select the support they actually need, through their own check-ins on the platform.
Specifically, employees can use the hub and check-in system to get individual scores, a better understanding of their own wellbeing and can create their own action plan from the activities, training and workshops available in the company. They can also access additional support if they are struggling and can remain completely anonymous.
For the company, managers have visibility of the wellbeing of their teams across geographies and divisions and can see where they are losing productivity and take action accordingly.
It’s about giving individuals the tools they need to make their own decisions about their mental health, rather than pushing wellness onto people. Our work on similar programmes has demonstrated the positive impact of empowering employees to report in the system and access the right support for them.
It is an approach that is measurable, accountable and where progress can offer real returns. Similarly, organisations have the data and tools to proactively manage mental health and wellbeing with confidence, delivering positive outcomes for all.
To find out more, visit www.lumien.io.