Work has always been stressful, but research suggests that 21st century businesses are facing a growing mental health crisis. NHS data shows that nearly one third of employees are taking time off for mental health reasons. Considering that nearly half of surveyed workers indicated that they still feel uncomfortable talking about their mental health, it’s very likely that the percentage of the workforce that’s suffering is significantly larger than this.
While many businesses are aware and taking real steps to help their employees, many aren’t aware of the seriousness of the issue, or are trying to substitute gimmicks and branding stunts for actual solutions. To bring the attention to this issue that it warrants, it’s important to understand that mental health is as much an economic problem as it is a social one.
Mental health is a growing twenty-first century issue
According to several studies by Manpower Group, millennials display the highest levels of anxiety and depression of any generation. Formative experiences like entering into the workforce during the financial crisis, work/life issues brought on by inability to unplug from work, and a variety of other factors have left an entire generation psychologically as well as economically insecure. “Startup culture”, inspired by Silicon Valley giants like BuzzFeed and Uber, has tried to gloss over the situation by painting offices in bright colors and tearing down cubicle walls, without really addressing any of the root causes. The businesses that are now getting serious about finding solutions are innovators in their own right, and could have serious impacts on how businesses and employees relate going forward.
Poor mental health has serious economic impacts
Many businesses, and society in general, still don’t take mental health seriously enough to put real effort into improving it in the workplace, and they pay a heavy price. A report by the Centre for Mental Health showed that, in 2017, the UK lost nearly £35 billion to mental health issues. Specifically, it cost an estimated £21.2 billion in reduced productivity, £10.6 billion in sick leave, and £3.1 billion in staff turnover. This doesn’t even consider the long term impacts of skilled workers leaving the workforce entirely for mental health reasons.
Mental health is a serious economic issue as much as it’s a serious social issue, and action is warranted on all fronts to alleviate the situation. As one of the primary causes of stressand anxiety in the average person’s life, employers need to step up for the sake of their employees as well as themselves.
Businesses need to create healthier work environments
As awareness of this issue has grown, businesses have attempted a wide variety of initiatives to improve employee wellness and to build healthy and vibrant company cultures. Unfortunately, it’s not clear what actually works. What is clear is that a business’ overall culture, and the ways it explicitly addresses mental health issues, matters.
Break down the stigma
Half of UK workers still don’t feel comfortable talking about their anxiety or depression at work. This prevents them from communicating when they’re under unreasonable pressure at work, or if there is another systemic problem in the business’ culture that needs to be addressed. Worse, it keeps them from seeking help early, when developing problems could be more easily dealt with. The morning that a critical team member is in such a bad place that they can’t get out of bed to come to work is not when you first want to discover that they’ve been suffering from depression.
Open a dialogue
There are a lot of things that can ease work stress, but not every solution works for every business. Every business is different, and different employees have different needs. Some employees need better communication with management, others need more flexibility, while still others might need more or less micromanagement. Blanket improvements like better benefits, higher wages, or better overall transparency are great, but real solutions need to be developed from an understanding of your team’s specific needs.
An employee that is buckling under the stress of their workload or suffering from anxiety because they need to deal with work emails at all hours might be temporarily silenced by a pay raise, but their mental health will definitely not improve. Businesses need to communicate and work with employees to create the work environment they (and your business) need in order to be successful in the long term.
Mental health is a serious and expensive issue that could make or break your business. Businesses that focus on their employees’ health and wellbeing have an easier time attracting talent and retaining the skilled employees they need to compete and grow. By prioritising employees, businesses can strengthen their organisations in the long term, and move toward a healthier future.