Lottie Galvin, Mental Health First Aider at iHASCO explores the current UK workplace mental health crisis and discusses how businesses can implement measures to improve workplace wellbeing in their employees
Many UK workplaces are experiencing a shift in their culture – they are beginning to embrace the reality of mental health and its impact on every individual. This is a fantastic start, with wellbeing policies being created, HR teams and management offering their staff support, and many companies making progress with both recognising the signs of mental ill-health as well as raising awareness on how their employees can better manage any problems they may be facing.
However, it’s time to level up and take it one step further. Simple solutions are always best, and offering your employees workplace awareness training is as simple as it gets. By equipping your staff with knowledge on the mental-health-essentials, you will make a genuine and profound difference to how they manage their own mental health. This is when you’ll see increased productivity, engagement and progress at work too – this is a win-win for all.
Sectors most at risk
There are some industries in the UK that are more at risk of workplace-induced mental ill-health. One of these sectors is education. Often overworked and under-supported, teachers are faced with relentless challenges; including the education and safeguarding of their students, lesson planning, marking, long working days and meeting the high standards set by governing bodies. When we stop to think about it, it’s no surprise that the stress created by this has a detrimental impact on their wellbeing.
Last year, The Independent reported that over half of the teachers that took part in a survey had 1 been diagnosed with a mental illness. The results of another 2018 survey were equally concerning. The figures showed that a total of 1.3 million sick days were taken by teachers in the past 4 years as a result of poor mental health; this includes stress, anxiety and depression. Meanwhile, 3,750 teachers were signed off on long-term sick leave due to work pressures and mental illness.
Mental ill-health is also a common problem in the construction sector. As a predominantly male industry, construction’s ‘macho-culture’ can make it very difficult for men to speak up and ask for help, even when they desperately need it. Poor mental health in this sector was the cause of over 1,400 suicides during a five-year period. The main contributions to this devastating statistic include heavy workloads, long working hours, carrying out high-risk tasks, the lack of routine, frequent travelling, being separated from family, and working in isolation. As construction workers are also contract-based, anxiety can be triggered by a lack of job security or steady paycheck, tight deadlines and restrictive budgeting costs.
A 2017 survey by CN’s Mind Matters revealed that 55% of construction workers had experienced 4 poor mental health, with 82% admitting that there is a taboo attached to mental ill-health in construction. Many of those who have suffered in the past now admit they had done so in silence.
The care industry is another sector that urgently needs to improve the mental health of its workers across the UK. Being a carer is an immensely challenging job, both physically and emotionally. 84% of carers report that they feel stressed, 78% suffer from anxiety, and 55% report that they have suffered from depression as a result of their work. Whether it’s due to being overworked, underpaid, or overwhelmed by the responsibility – or exposure to sickness and death – that commonly comes with the job, care workers operate in an extremely stressful environment. The heartbreaking reality is that the care sector has a suicide rate that’s almost twice as high as the national average.
It’s crucial for employers to implement frameworks and procedures that will protect the wellbeing of their employees. If these statistics don’t improve (and quickly) can we expect people to continue pursuing careers in this industry? The likes of which we all rely on. What do any of us have, without good mental and physical health?
Training intervention: the key to positive change
Mental health awareness training should not be seen as a ‘nice bonus’, it should be seen for what it is – an important foundation for bettering everyone’s wellbeing, productivity, and the long-term success of every business. 15 million working days are lost in the UK each year due to poor mental health (with an annual estimated cost of £94 billion to the UK economy). So just imagine the 6 7 financial benefits of flipping this on its head by making a modest investment into improving the mental health of your staff.
Through this refreshing perspective on the subject, investing in employee wellbeing is certainly justified. Although mental health training may not provide all the answers, it has the power to improve each employee’s mindset by encouraging them to take control of their mental health in all areas of their lives.
By being honest and asking themselves how they are treating staff and the impact this treatment is having, business owners can take an important first step. Are your management aware of workplace bullying or harassment? Are work targets achievable? Are employees getting the support they really need? Having a positive and proactive approach to wellbeing will filter through the entire organisation.
The ideal environment is one in which guidance, solutions and appropriate confidentiality are offered. But this can only be achieved in organisations that allow employees to talk openly about how they are feeling. Part of this is making sure that those in leadership roles are given the knowledge to spot signs of mental ill-health as well as equipping them with the skills to do something about it. Achieving this is simple.
The great thing about making these modest changes is that it helps to dissolve the stigma that surrounds mental ill-health, and it enables individuals and businesses alike to experience growth and success – both now and in the long run. So much so, that for every £1 an organisation invests in their employees’ mental health and wellbeing, they can expect to see an average of £4.20 in return. 8 Ultimately, high-quality and informative training quickly reveals an all-important the truth… an open and supportive culture is a vital part of a successful business.