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Nurturing a mentally well workforce – innovative solutions for organisations in a digital world

Mental health is becoming quite the buzz word in today’s society, with an extra £2 billion being allocated to mental health in the UK government’s 2018 budget. But what does mental health really mean? Or perhaps more importantly, what does it mean on a practical level, especially in the context of an increasingly digital world?

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To understand the practical implications of mental health, we first need to understand more about it. The World Health Organisation defines mental health as “not just the absence of mental disorder. It is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” Or, in simple terms, being mentally healthy is being in a state of mind that allows us to be the best we can be.

The cost of mental health problems per year in the UK reported in October 2018 is £42 billion, a staggering average of £2,100 per employee. It could be costing the UK economy as a whole £99 billion annually. Anxiety and depression are the most common mental health problems in Britain; it has been estimated that they cause one in five sick days. The other common problems include eating disorders and panic disorders.

There are many common misconceptions about mental health; for example, that you’re either mentally well or you’re not, that it’s not that widely spread, or that it often can’t be prevented. These misconceptions have a basis of truth within them but are often highly simplified or hyperbolic statements used in the media. I will happily discuss these misconceptions in detail with anyone who will listen (and feel free to contact us to have this discussion). The fundamental point is that there are many mental health conditions which exist in the workplace that can be prevented or well managed. Recognising misconceptions and taking a proactive approach to ensure that employees are mentally well helps to ensure optimal performance.

The myth that nothing can be done to prevent mental health issues is far from accurate. In fact, often the most effective treatment is prevention. The British government’s independent review of work and mental health hopes to identify specific methods to help companies manage their staff’s mental health and wellbeing. But, why wait? There are steps you can take today to assess well-being in your staff, measure levels of engagement and motivation at work, and look at the mental health of your employees.

In our digital society, there are an increasing number of innovations that can prevent mental health becoming a problem in your workplace. Well utilised technology-based interventions mean that mental health issues can be treated with anonymity. Such innovations include:

  • E-learning to raise awareness
    Royal Mail group launched a five-year mental health strategy which had 4 key aims, one of which is to increase awareness. Between October 2017 and October 2018, 9,500 managers were put through an e-learning course. The feedback given showed that awareness of mental health increased and a change in mindset was affected.
  • Webinars to provide knowledge
    A banking client implemented a series of webinars in order to help employees recognise signs of anxiety and high levels of stress. Two 90-minute webinars were given to senior management in order to give knowledge of recognising and managing anxiety and stress. Feedback given showed that the knowledge given during the sessions was found to be valuable. An increase in usage of Employee Assistance Programmes was recorded in the months following the sessions.
  • E-therapies for high levels of workplace stress
    Research into emergency services has found that e-therapies used to help manage symptoms of stress have improved wellbeing in those that were suffering from extremely high levels of stress. Therapies were self-administered over a period of 6-12 weeks, with ‘homework’ (i.e. practicing stress management techniques, employing mindfulness techniques throughout a day) given. Feedback was that the anonymity of undertaking the therapy gave greater peace of mind.
  • Online employee assistance programmes (EAP) to help aid those with mental health issues
    Costain extended their EAP programme. As a part of this extension, they highlighted the EAP programme more actively during new employee induction. Since doing so, in October 2018, there has been a 50% increase in utilisation of the service. The service offers telephone therapy as well as traditional therapy and advice.

Implementing interventions, like the above, for the prevention and improvement of mental health issues in the workplace can reduce absenteeism, presentism (being at work but not being productive), or high turnover of staff.

The stigma around mental health is reducing, but a long journey remains before mental health is truly understood in the same way as physical health. However, you can take a step in the right direction and start your journey to nurturing a mentally well workforce today. We at Sia Partners will be happy to discuss these issues with you and help you to make effective changes that improve and maintain a mentally well workforce. Your benefits will be invaluable!