Looking at employee wellbeing beyond 'Blue Monday'
Whatever your views about Blue Monday (allegedly the ‘most depressing day of the year’), perhaps shining a spotlight on having better mental wellbeing is better than having nothing at all. For without a doubt, mid-January can be pretty glum. It’s dark and it’s cold and payday can feel like a million miles away.
But the reality is that for many UK employees, every day can be a depressing day, and to slightly alter a popular phrase, wellbeing shouldn’t just be for the New Year – it should be for life.
But mental health is not always easy for employers to tackle. While data about the benefits of having a mentally fit workforce are clear (mental health conditions are responsible for 15% of all workplace absence - according to ONS), it’s a difficult area for firms to broach. Employees have a right to privacy, but employers are within their rights to expect their staff to meet performance targets. But the problem for bosses is that the later mental health problems are identified, the greater the potential they have to spiral out of easily manageable control. Thanks in part to their late detection, Common Mental Health Disorders (or CMDs as they are known), are now amongst the leading cause of long-term absence and it causes 300,000 people leave their jobs each year.
So what can employers realistically do? Apart from the obvious – creating cultures that are much more open to staff having mental health conversations (often helped by having mental health first aiders and initiatives such as wellbeing days/weeks and tools for improving staff resilience), firms clearly need other tools in their box.
Often firms struggle to know why it is that staff are off ill in the first place. And, if it is through mental health, data suggests people will simply hide in plain sight. Research finds as many as two-in-five will just say they’re ‘sick’ to mask/hide a mental health condition rather than admit to it there and then.
This is one of the reasons Appogee Leave’s absence management software has the facility for staff to discreetly state the specific reason they are off – and one of the choices is poor mental health. For it’s our belief that it’s only when mental health is de-stigmatised and regarded as just part of the normal spectrum of ‘health’ that more positive changes in perceptions towards mental wellbeing will happen. One in four people will suffer from poor mental health at some point in their working lives – making it as frequent as other health issues, like getting cancer.
It’s only through flagging things up, and by measuring and recording (and in a non-judgemental way), that managers can intervene early and do something about it before a person’s condition spirals. Most employers do genuinely want to support their employees, and if best practice changes are anything to go by, the definition of support is already extending to firms assessing the mental wellbeing impact that their organising of work creates. This concept is now fundamental to the new ISO 45003 certification which extends rules to safeguard physical heath and safety into mental health too, and having systems in place for measuring it.
So it seems clear that if organisations can do just a small thing – giving staff mental health as a visible reason they are struggling – then they have the power to make a really big change. Even better is to supplement this with advice, videos or other documents that help staff get everything they need from one single workplace portal.
Through both of these interventions employees will at least have a reason to feel like their mental health is being taken seriously all of the time – and not just for one day of the year.
 Research by BHSF Occupational Health