Urgent action required to improve employee health and wellbeing

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Workplace wellbeing has been thrust into the spotlight with GoodShape’s 2021 UK PLC Workforce Health Report revealing that mental health issues constituted the number one reason for time taken off work last year — more so even than positive Covid tests.

The study showed that over 54% of workers who take two or more mental health absences would ultimately leave their current job with the direct cost of absences throughout 2021 estimated to be a shocking £43 billion (excluding additional costs such as overtime, temporary staff, admin fees etc). As the pandemic continues into 2022 and such workplace absences are forecast to rise, businesses should be preparing to safeguard against further damage.

This year, The Watercooler and various partners have come together to champion mental health in the workplace, creating tools, techniques, and resources to help businesses adapt.

free, two-day event running 23–24 February 2022 in London, The Watercooler will host a programme filled with advice and actionable insight for business leaders and HR professionals with regards to approaches and guidance for addressing the health topics that we often find tough.

BHSF will be among the partners leading workshop sessions at The Watercooler, addressing issues that arose from their Big Return survey of 2000 UK employees, such as the stark reality that 40% of workplace absence is due to mental health issues — a figure “projected to be in the region of 70% by 2023”. explains BHSF group chief executive Heidi Stewart. Their results also indicated that “half (50.5%) of employers have not provided any health and wellbeing support during the pandemic.”

One of their most significant findings uncovered a worrying one-third (30%) of employees who would not feel comfortable discussing any mental health, physical health, grief, or financial concerns with their line manager. Of the remaining two-thirds who said they would discuss concerns with management, this figure drops to 41% if the concern was mental-health–related. It’s increasingly clear that many employees are getting left behind.

Fika will be exhibiting its mental fitness skills development platform at the February event. The company is pioneering a new approach to prevent mental health decline, creating space for ‘time in’ before the need for ‘time off’: “Managers and leaders can offset the risk of organisational burnout by integrating mental fitness training into their culture, tech, and ways of working,” explains Dr Fran Longstaff, Head of Psychology, who believes mental muscles can be trained proactively in the same way as physical muscles to equip employees with skills and tools they need to prepare ahead of challenges.

While culture and conversations around workplace wellbeing are slowly improving, we need to make more effort to bolster the resilience of our teams — before things reach crisis point. “Resilience is the ability to adapt and bounce back from difficult events, challenges, disappointments or adversity. […] Your resilience level isn’t set in stone. It’s dynamic, and you can increase it,” explains Dr Wolfgang Seidl, Workplace Health Consulting Leader for Mercer Marsh Benefits. 

Dr Seidl recommends working on the ‘Four Cs’: Commitment, Control, Challenge and Community. Commitment means setting goals and sticking to them; control is when you feel trusted to manage your own workflow; challenges should be approached as opportunities and flexible thinking embraced; and finally comes community — a well-functioning team is one where no member feels isolated or alone.

Forward-thinking businesses should be looking to open channels of communication with management; take a proactive approach to the diverse needs of the workforce; and lay the foundations for a culture that prioritises patience and understanding.

Simon Berger, Founding Partner of The Watercooler and Mad World Summit, offers some starting suggestions for employers and business leaders:

  • Prioritise mental health and workplace wellbeing. Empathy is such a key asset to any business model, and staff who feel well looked-after are far more likely to give their best back to you. Particularly with at-home or hybrid work models, people may begin to feel isolated, so having regular moments where you check in and offer support is vital. If it’s in your capacity, offering regular one-to-ones with a trained member of staff has proven highly valuable for many businesses and employees.
  • Offer flexibility in how your employees operate. Not everyone is the same, and understanding the diverse needs of your staff — particularly those who are neurodivergent or have disabilities — is increasingly important. Having rigid structures that fall harder on the shoulders of some will make your workplace less inclusive; keep an open dialogue with your staff to understand any unique needs they may have — and really listen.

The Watercooler will feature over 5,000 workplace wellbeing professionals, 100+ expert speakers, 21 live case studies, and 100+ hours of free peer-to-peer learning. Organised by Make A Difference Media and the Evening Standard in partnership with AXA Health and Mercer Marsh Benefits.

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    Lisa Carter

    All stories by: Lisa Carter