HR & Management

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Putting mental health on your workplace agenda

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Support employees with existing concerns

Our mental health report found working adults with mental health problems (MHPs) contributed an estimated £226bn to UK GDP in 2015. Some 67 per cent of the people surveyed wanted to use flexible working to reduce absenteeism and support their mental health. This implies businesses who are inflexible and unwilling to make reasonable adjustments for employees living with MHPs could end up losing important workplace talent.

Establishing employee assistance programmes (EAPs) can be an extremely useful addition to help employees already experiencing difficulties. EAPS offer direct, confidential contact with experts who can support individuals with emotional distress, from family issues to work-related problems, addiction and mental illness.

Our research also shows it’s imperative businesses equip managers with the skills and knowledge needed to support their team members suffering from mental health conditions. The majority (90 per cent) of line managers we surveyed felt they hadn’t received adequate training to deal with and make decisions about these issues in an informed and confident manner.

Some managers may benefit from being sent away on a one or two-day course, but many will get significant insight from a lunchtime or breakfast session. Offering short and frequent training opportunities will help ensure maximum attendance all year round.

Encourage open conversations

Establish a mental health champions network to combat negative reactions and encourage open dialogue. Creating an environment where mental health is discussed openly amongst employees, can be one of the best ways to lessen its taboo. These can be individuals who are available for informal chats with employees and can provide more detailed advice on the support available to those who might be struggling.

Bringing in speakers can help get employees thinking about their lifestyle choices in and outside of work too and equip them with the knowledge to take control and improve their own health. According to Westfield Health, for example, a combination of factors such as 24/7 access to technology and our stressed lifestyles is blurring our work and home lives. It’s increasingly difficult to switch off and relax – which can lead to sleep problems.

Sleep deprivation has a direct impact on workplace performance and productivity. Research by Rand Corporation has shown it costs the UK economy £40bn a year through lower productivity and employee absences. Introducing training sessions on how to use positive sleep behavioural and environmental change techniques could be highly beneficial not only for employees but for your business’ bottom line.

Liz Walker is HR director of Unum UK

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