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Why mental health is one of the biggest issues facing businesses today and what more we can do to help

By Simon Winfield, Managing Director, Hays UK & Ireland

 

It’s a well-known statistic that one in four people in the UK will experience some kind of mental health issue over the course of any given year. This means that even if you don’t struggle with mental ill health personally, you’ll likely know at least one person who will.

Employers are realising that they need to do more to promote a mentally healthy workplace. Over recent years I’ve certainly become more aware of the importance of promoting positive mental health - it could be one of the biggest issues to face businesses today and we need to start tackling it and putting the support in place to help. People within my organisation will struggle with mental ill health this year and from both a personal and professional standpoint we need to consider what more we can do to promote a mentally healthy workplace.

This World Mental Health Day, it is worth considering three questions:

  • How can we support ourselves and each other better?
  • What can we all do to facilitate mentally healthy workplaces?
  • Is there more that can be done?

There are a few ways we can all help ensure good mental health in the workplace for ourselves and our colleagues.

1. Look after yourself

Mental health is exactly that – part of what makes up your overall health. You need to look after it and should ask for help when you need it. Put simply, if you had a broken leg, you would seek help, wouldn’t you? There is no shame in reaching out when you are struggling with mental ill health. If your issue is linked to work – either directly causing it or because you feel it is impacting upon your performance – talk to your manager or to HR, and a good employer should be able to put steps in place to support you.

2. It’s ok to talk, but it’s important to listen

Mental health is often an acutely personal topic but talking things through can help. Having a sounding board can stop things escalating and help you to come up with a plan to tackle the issue. We should all try to be open to hearing the experiences of others and be aware of the wellbeing of those around us. When was the last time you truly listened? Listening may sound like a small thing, but it could make a big difference to someone. When time’s precious we can all be guilty of not spending the time listening to what our colleagues, friends and family actually mean. Stop for a minute, ask somebody how they are and listen to what they actually say.

3. Go one step further and become a first aider

Whilst there are professional mental health advocates, you can often receive training to help your colleagues. You could join the increasing numbers of people throughout the UK who are becoming mental health first aiders by taking a certified course. We trained our first mental health first aiders last year so they can help individuals with specific advice and raise awareness of the resources and information that’s available.

Even if your company doesn’t offer training, look at what information is available to increase your knowledge. We have podcasts available with Sarah Churchman, Chief Inclusion and Wellbeing Officer at PwC and a business psychologist, Gordan Tinline. Both offer useful information and insight into the topic of mental health.

4. Prioritise good work-life balance

Interestingly, this year’s World Mental Health Day falls during National Work-Life Week. Of course, as far as mental health at work is concerned, these two issues often overlap. Thanks to technology and our ‘always on’ culture, good work-life balance can seem harder to achieve than ever before – and this may impact wellbeing and mental health. Consider undertaking a digital detox, where you don’t access work emails after work hours or during a weekend. Think about what balance means for you and what you want to achieve outside of work. You might be juggling family and other commitments so be clear about what work-life balance means for you and if it isn’t in synch, seek help to address the balance.

5. Stamp-out unequal progression opportunities  

A recent survey conducted by Hays of over 5,200 professionals revealed that career progression opportunities can be vastly unequal, as a result of mental health. We asked respondents if they felt they had the same opportunities as others in their organisation regardless of factors such as age, disability, gender or ethnicity. The highest perceptions of unequal access to career progression opportunities were attributed to mental health - over a quarter of people with a history of mental health conditions say this has affected their chance of being selected for a job.

Managers should address any concerns employees have around the link mental ill health has to unequal access to career progression, which may also be contributing to a ‘culture of silence’ around mental ill health. They can do this by providing structured progression plans for all professionals regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation or mental health history, to help everyone achieve their full potential within an organisation.

6. Set the tone from the top

Leaders should set the tone from the top. Not only should you look after your own mental health (in fact, last year BUPA stats confirmed that 68% of business leaders suffered from mental ill health), but you should have clear policies and processes in place to support your team. A Mind study found that 56% of employers said they would like to do more to improve staff wellbeing but don't feel they have the right training or guidance. Start with making sure you’ve got the knowledge you need so you can drive change in this area. Part of your role as leaders is likely to be to drive productivity and having a mentally healthy workforce is key to this.

Mental health is covered in our upcoming diversity & inclusion webinar on 16th October. Register to attend.

About this author

Simon joined Hays in 2006, having commenced his recruitment career in 1993. Initially responsible for our businesses in Western Australia and Northern Territory, Simon relocated to the UK in 2014 where he was responsible for our operations in the West & Wales and Ireland, before being appointed Managing Director of the UK & Ireland business in 2018.

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