HR & Management

What's your plan to improve employee mental health?

5 min read

21 January 2019

Features Editor, Real Business

January, the month of cold, rain, and early nights. But it's also the month where employees are most likely to struggle with their mental health. These are the steps you can take to improve employee mental health, using technology and the simple power of the line-manager.

January is a funny old month, isn’t it? From the dark mornings to the fierce budgeting after Christmas indulgences, (both financial and foodie), January is certainly not the most fun-filled month to be an employee.

Remember when we published a piece last week about the importance of providing EAPs (Employee Assistance Programmes) for staff working overseas? Well, The Health Insurance Group have discovered that employees need more support here in the UK, and January is when they need it most.

They’ve reported that calls to EAPs spike in January, which shows that employers are failing to provide the mental health support their staff need.

Then we have the aptly named Blue Monday.

Taking place today (21 January), it has become a sort of macabre holiday, and an acknowledgement of employee-related malaise. So how can employers send this dark and depressing holiday to bed, once and for all?

The typical candidate seeking EAP support at this time

Women represent the largest proportion of those accessing EAP services in the new year, says The Health Insurance Group.

Age-wise, they are between 41-50 years-old. This specific age-group is an important one to consider as an employer. Why? Because, on average,  professional women of this age often have both elderly parents, as well as children, to look after. These women not only face the daily pressures of work but the heavy-duty responsibilities of a caregiver too.

“Employers that don’t provide support to employees in helping to tackle some of these demons are really doing their staff a disservice. Not only is it costing them dearly as a business, but simple wellbeing solutions can make a significant difference to individual lives. From counselling services to providing technology to employees who feel more comfortable using this medium, there are plenty of ways to support mental health in 2019.”  – Brett Hill, managing director at The Health Insurance Group

Why the ‘personal is no longer private’

With the rise of wellness and self-care culture, as well as increased public awareness around mental health, it’s no longer a cultural prerequisite for employees to “leave their problems at the door.”

Mental health problems cost employers on average, between £33bn-£42bn a year. These heavy costs mount up in terms of presenteeism, absenteeism and higher staff turnover rates.

Employers must decide upon what their mental health policy is, and implement it properly. This is not just about paying lip service to new trends, there’s a clear business case for it, namely the retention of staff and ensuring good productivity rates.

Are employers just engaging in rhetoric?

This is an important question to answer. Are businesses actually putting their policies into practice? And do employees really feel any benefit?

– According to the research, whilst 60% of board members and senior managers say their organisation supports people with mental health issues, only half of employees would discuss a mental health problem with their line manager.

What employers can do

Employers should look to the tech tools at their disposal.

For example, modern mental health apps can be useful by helping users to navigate their own issues, (if they want to do so privately) including mindfulness and meditation. Where possible, employers should also integrate counselling services whether officially (experts) or unofficially (make it a role priority for line managers for their staff).

With line-managers, it must be communicated from the start that part of their role is to listen to, and support, the mental and emotional wellbeing of their staff. This should make them more approachable as unofficial counsellors to other employees.

According to statistics compiled by the HIG, British men are 300% more likely to confide in artificial intelligence than humans about their mental wellbeing.

Therefore, the use of mental health apps in the workplace could revolutionise the way employees deal with mental health pressures. This is especially important for male employees who are statistically more likely to face mental health issues and pose more of a suicide risk than their female counterparts.