Championing mental health and workplace wellbeing

workplace wellbeing
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Philip Mullen, Managing Director, UK and Europe at LifeWorks, looks at what we can learn from the conversations of elite athletes and how it can be translated into workplace wellbeing

The recent trend of sports stars such as Lando Norris, Ben Stokes and Naomi Osaka speaking out about mental health and burnout has sparked worldwide discussion regarding taking time off work to focus on one’s mental wellbeing.

At this past summer’s Olympic Games, Simone Biles drew headlines for withdrawing from the all-around competition due to mental health concerns. Biles wasn’t the only athlete to raise mental health concerns, after Britain’s Adam Peaty, who won two gold medals and a silver at the Games, announced that he would be taking a break to recover from the Games. Whilst the stamina and determination of those competing at the Games was universally applauded, it is the conversation that these Olympians started on mental health that has been Tokyo’s legacy.

The reality is that most sports are as much a mental game as they are physical. For too long these matters have been viewed as distinct, separate entities, but the two are inextricably linked. In September friends of former Yeovil Town captain Lee Collins, who tragically passed away in 2019, called on the Professional Footballers Association to “conduct an extensive review of the current player wellbeing serve”.

Undoubtedly, the pandemic has made us all more aware of just how vulnerable we are, and the importance of discussions and support surrounding mental health. Whilst athletes have initiated these discussions, employers need to be doing the same.

Employee wellbeing awareness

Awareness of employee wellbeing and mental health issues may be increasing, but a staggering 42% of respondents want to receive more support from their employer post-pandemic. According to recent research from LifeWorks, nearly one-third of Britons reported an increase in job stress in 2021 compared to 2020 and 12% are now considering resigning because of feeling underappreciated. A further 16% of respondents feel that the culture of their organisation does not support their personal wellbeing and 26% of respondents are unsure of their company’s culture of support.

In a year of workplace upheaval, where working from home has become the new normal, many staff were forced or felt required to work longer hours, with the average working day in UK increasing by almost 25%, with workers logging off at 8 p.m. during the pandemic.

As a result, a staggering 85% of workers claim that they became disengaged during the pandemic and mental health-related absenteeism rose by 10% last year, costing UK companies £14bn. Unless businesses provide wellbeing support to assist colleagues in dealing with these significant changes, companies are likely to face higher employee turnover, high absenteeism, and a loss in productivity.

It is important to note that it is not just working from home that has impacted employees’ mental wellbeing in the last year. Some employees will have been fearful about contracting the virus, others will have been anxious about family and friends, many will have suffered bereavements during this time and others will have had fears about job security, financial concerns and returning to the workplace.

Mental health support

This array of issues means employers need to offer comprehensive mental and physical support, which is accessible for employees whether in the office or at home. Digital wellbeing support platforms, such as LifeWorks, are offering up to date and comprehensive support that gives employees easy access to information and resources on wellbeing, with solutions tailored to the employee and their own schedule.

It is essential businesses look into installing these schemes and recognise the benefits of supporting their employees’ total wellbeing. By doing so, they will be able to help treat the top reasons for short-term absence faster and help prevent long-term conditions from arising, meaning a healthier, happier, more productive workforce.

Furthermore, users have access to a range of resources, from updated podcasts and audios to articles and booklets, all available to access through their mobile phone at any time. According to NHS Digital, 40% of patients have avoided making an appointment in the last 12 months, with 20% worried about burdening the NHS and another 4% unable to find the time. Therefore, businesses can use wellbeing platforms to help address these issues by taking some of the strain off the NHS and offering support directly to employees.

While we adjust to the “new normal”, we need to learn and build from the experiences and shared challenges of the pandemic. Leaders need to be proactive and think of new ways to engage employees. With the demands of the workplace changing, it is essential that businesses adapt accessible and effective digital wellbeing resources that are driven by counsellors trained in mental health.

Whilst athletes commenting on their own wellbeing struggles has helped provide an incredible opportunity to start long-overdue conversations about mental health, there must be action by employers if we are to truly champion mental wellbeing.


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