How communication can support better mental health at work

Employees who are preoccupied with personal problems are not at their most productive[pic credot etc]

Employers are arguably more open to mental health conversations than ever before, realising the benefits of supporting staff through stress and anxiety. Jo Salter from PwC reveals how her company and other employers are keeping the lines of communication open. 

Recent figures from the Government show that employers lose up to £42 billion each year due to staff suffering from mental health problems. Overall, poor mental health is reported to cost the UK economy £99 billion each year.

Earlier this year, PwC carried out a study that revealed more than a third (34%) of employees are struggling with a health and wellbeing issue, the most common being anxiety, depression and stress. So what should companies do to address this issue?

Good emotional and mental health is a key part of unlocking the potential of workers. In fact, presenteeism may be far more costly than absenteeism. How often have you seen someone turn up to work with ‘stuff’ on their mind? They may be present, but are they as effective as they could be?

It is becoming increasingly important for organisations to provide employees with support for their emotional and physical health at work.

Conversation culture

Healthier and happier staff perform better and stay in the business longer, reducing cost and risk for organisations. Understanding and addressing the root causes are the first step to resolving the underlying issues. This is also key to boosting productivity.

We have worked with a number of clients to help them devise wellbeing strategies that help them support their employees with mental health and/or wellbeing issues, as well as enabling meaningful and sustainable change that builds the health and happiness of the organisation over time.

Training managers on how to spot wellbeing mental health issues and giving them tools and the skills to support their employees, contributes to a culture where honest conversations and caring is the norm.

At PwC, we appointed our first full time Mental Health Leader in 2016 and in the same year launched a campaign called ‘Green Light to Talk’, aimed at encouraging people to talk about mental health at work.

How can technology help?

Digital tools and data analytics can help organisations spot and then provide the right support for staff who may be experiencing a mental health or wellbeing issue.

To do this, employers need to gain the trust of their employees to acquire, store and use personal data appropriately. The good news is that people are increasingly receptive to the idea of wellbeing at work.

Another piece of PwC research showed that two thirds of employees want their employer to take an active role in their health and wellbeing and feel that technology should be used to help them do this.

However, less than half would accept a free piece of wearable tech if their employees had access to the data recorded, possibly indicating a lack of employee/employer trust.

Mindset shift

The first step is building awareness at employee and leadership levels. More organisations need to move mental health and staff wellbeing to the top of the board agenda.

That means creating an environment where staff at all levels are open about their mental health and wellbeing issues, know what support is available to them, feel they belong, and that they are making a valued contribution.

As Sebastian Junger, the author of The Perfect Storm, said: “Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary. It’s time for that to end.”

Employers must take steps to overcome the trust gap and show they are serious about data security and the use of the data that is being gathered.

Open communication with staff about the benefits technology can bring and a considered, ethical approach to data will improve the adoption rate of such technologies.

Generational differences

Unsurprisingly, the younger generation of millennial workers are the most comfortable using technology in the workplace and are less concerned about the sharing of personal data.

Given the war for talent, organisations should be thinking about how attractive their benefits and workplace technology is to this next generation of workers and how they can keep pace.

Ultimately employers need to communicate and educate constantly on mental health and wellbeing and look for ways to open up the discussion and normalise such conversations.

It is only by doing this that we will see measurable improvements in health and happiness at work with increased productivity, staff retention and a culture of wellness.

Jo Salter
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