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Mind control: Only a third of staff with a mental health problem feel they have support

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The survey, commissioned by YouGov, combined the responses of 1,000 Brits who admitted to having a mental health problem with 1,000 line managers – and found “distress” to be a mutual factor.

Some 88 per cent of those with a mental health problem – and 39 per cent of managers with no alleged history of mental health issues – told researchers: “I have been through times where I felt stressed, overwhelmed or had trouble coping, for whatever reason.” 

According to Unum: “This is a strong indicator of presenteeism and highlights the need to act holistically. Furthermore, it is of huge concern that 49 per cent of the respondents who had been diagnosed with a mental health problem in the last five years reported going to work while experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings.”

Talking with Liz Walker, HR director at Unum, we found out more about the research – and how Unum ensured the wellbeing of its own team.

What do you believe are the benefits of investing in employees’ health and wellbeing?

Supporting employees’ health and wellbeing can bring tremendous return on investment. When employers prioritise their employees’ health and wellbeing, employees are likely to feel more engaged and work more productively. This, in turn, can help employers operate more efficiently and improve staff recruitment and retention.

There are also potential cost savings through reductions in employee absenteeism, presenteeism, turnover and health-related costs.

In what ways do you boost employee wellbeing?

Actively working to safeguard employee mental health is a critical element of our overall health and wellbeing. We’ve implemented several initiatives that provide support so that it becomes rooted in our company culture.

Our work environment has been redesigned to stimulate face-to-face collaboration, inspiring employees to move around during the work day and take breaks. We ensure plenty of healthy options are accessible and affordable in the restaurant, like offering free fruit with employee lunches.

We train line managers to spot a mental health problem, and ensure they have the means to provide support. A health and wellbeing committee comprised of staff volunteers has also been assembled. These volunteers act as champions to generate awareness and develop initiatives that support the overall cause.

Our next big focus area is resilience, understanding it as a means for employees to realise their full potential and safeguard their mental health and wellbeing.

If money was no object, what health and wellbeing perks/schemes would you suggest employers put in place?

A dedicated health and life coach for each employee to help manage important elements of their overall wellbeing, including stress management, sleep-cycle improvement, mindfulness, and healthy eating choices, would be the way to go.

But, quite frankly, there are several initiatives that can be implemented without significant cost. Creating a culture of support and openness, where employees can share struggles and ask for help, can have a strong impact on a company. As does education and effective communication about what resources are available to employees, like Employee Assistance Programmes or prevention and early intervention services.

How would you advise smaller businesses tackle staff mental health?

My best advice for SMEs is to view mental health as an asset. Supporting mental health in the workplace is more than just the right thing do – it makes good business sense. Practical tips include:

• Being aware of existing resources, like the added value services typically available with Group Income Protection. Employers may have access to rehab consultants and vocational experts who can help employers manage mental health. Also, employers should use Employee Assistance Programmes that provide practical and emotional support to help safeguard mental health.

• Designate champions at board level and within senior management to oversee the development and implementation of a mental health strategy, so that it exists at the heart of the business. These champions should facilitate dialogue and create a culture of openness around the topic to remove the stigma.

• Address mental health support and protection in company policies to showcase commitment and address discrimination. You need to value the diversity and transferable skills people with experience of mental health problems bring to a company. A variety of perspectives is always beneficial for a business and provides a competitive edge.

Do you believe that mental health is still a taboo subject?

Having a mental health problem has historically been viewed as taboo, but as employers, we must work to encourage conversation. I’m happy to see mental health moving up on the agenda as more people start to understand how common it is and the need for support.

Is it often the case that people don’t realise the state of their own mental health?

Yes, in fact, distress is an issue that affects a major proportion of the workforce, whether people have experienced a mental health problem or not. Distress often leaves people feeling less productive and working while unwell.

Walker offers advice on addressing the subject on the next page

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