With experts indicating that mental health is the leading cause of sickness and absence from work, staff wellbeing has risen up the ranks of corporate priorities. One founder told Real Business, however, that zooming in on employees is arguably much easier when you’re a startup.
“As a startup, we had the luxury of starting with a blank sheet when it came to how we would operate and one of the first areas we looked at was how to provide an environment for employees that tries to prevent mental health issues arise from work,” said Richard Stewart, founder of Untangl.co.uk.
“Its allowed us to work hard to provide a culture of openness, candour and support. We’ve also never had any office hours, fixed holiday allocations or a dress code. I once worked at businesses where this was a huge area of friction for employees and it just isn’t important compared to getting employees to fully engage and become committed to the business.”
With the business also focussing on employee benefits, we sought his advice on how employers could best boost staff wellbeing. Here’s what he had to say:
What do you believe are the benefits of investing in employees’ health and wellbeing?
Caring for employees beyond a merely transactional relationship is fundamentally important and delivers a huge range of benefits from better engagement and improved retention, to lowering costs associated with absenteeism.
Citing staff health as your first port of call when starting up, what was the first thing you looked to implement?
Flexible working hours and a good quality health care package which included support services like therapy and counselling.
Do you believe putting staff health at the core of the business from the very start is something few companies do?
It varies hugely but I’m always surprised to see how few companies have a defined strategy in place to deliver good employee health outcomes. Look at a typical offer letter or induction programme and you’ll rarely see much focus on staff wellbeing.
If money was no object, what health and wellbeing perks/schemes would you advocate employers have in place?
Externally, I’d source a good package of usable healthcare benefits. These don’t need to cost much – our benefit packages start from around £20 per employee per month. Internally, I’d look at flexible working options and a strong and open employee feedback environment.
How important is a good relationship between employer and employee to the mental health debate?
It’s vital. Employers need to take the lead on this and create a culture of openness and freedom to talk about mental health.
How would you advise SME bosses address staff mental health?
Look at creating a culture of openness and provide a platform for feedback beyond a snatched annual review chat. Then look at a few simple support solutions and make sure these are well communicated. Think about getting a wellbeing or occupational health therapist to run some regular sessions too.
Do you believe that mental health as a taboo subject persists?
Yes, I think it’s dismissed by many employers as a non-illness and often viewed as a sign of weakness. The problem with this attitude is that the longer term outcomes are likely to be much worse for both sides compared to offering help and support at an earlier stage.
Is it often the case that people don’t realise what their own mental health situation is?
I think that’s a fair point. We’re not as good as we could be at recognising the early signs and seeking help.
What do you think can be done to improve understanding of mental health illnesses?
Better education and a more open discussion will help boost staff wellbeing. Things are improving but there’s still plenty of work to do.
What is the most common misconception?
The most common misconception is that mental health is not really a health issue at all but some form of character flaw.
How do you unwind after a tough week?
I talk long walks with my dog and I spend quality time with family and friends.
Do you have any rituals to improve your own mental health?
I keep a list of the good things that happen each week. This is a great way to stay positive. Also, I find a few minutes to relax each day. Simple yoga and breathing exercises work for me.
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