Mental health at work: how SMEs can play their part
Guest blog by By Joel Beverley, Co-founder at RotaCloud
According to the Mental Health Foundation, 70 million work days are lost a year in the UK due to mental health problems, effectively costing employers around £2.4 billion per year. Workplace stress or issues going on at home can have a massive impact on an employee’s productivity. Employers shouldn’t see it as beyond their control to help struggling staff members and, as a result, reduce absenteeism. Adopting a mental health and wellbeing strategy can offer employees an environment that helps keep both morale and productivity rates high.
Introducing mental health first aiders is one approach that many organisations are taking to help support employees. Thames Water has seen a 75% reduction in work-related stress thanks to training staff members to look out for signs of anxiety and depression in colleagues. But SMEs are lagging behind when it comes to offering this kind of workplace help. Business in the Community, a charity that promotes responsible business, found that 21% of employees at large organisations have received mental health training. This is in contrast to only 14% of those working at small businesses, and 11% of staff at micro businesses.
Smaller businesses with only minimal HR support naturally find it hard to include mental health training in their workplace processes. But by introducing even small measures to help those in need, SMEs can support their employees’ wellbeing and mental health.
Five simple, yet effective, tactics include:
- Regularly examine workloads: Saying no to your boss isn’t easy, and it’s one way that employees end up being overstretched and potentially stressed. It’s also important to establish whether they’re being expected to perform tasks that are too advanced for their role, which could cause stress for many. Consider if certain tasks should be passed across to a colleague, and if the employee is still struggling, then consider offering them training programmes that can help them to better manage their workloads.
- Observe team dynamics: No man is an island, and it often takes a whole team for a project to be successful. But a team is only as good as its individual members, and when one or more fail to pull their weight, it upsets the balance and others get stressed due to having to pick up extra work. By keeping an eye on the personal progress of individuals, managers can pull up employees who need to up their game for the wellbeing of colleagues.
- Consider the office environment: Working in an office that doesn’t support a person’s daily tasks will only hinder their productivity, effectively demoralising them. It’s key for an office to facilitate easy communication without denying employees a degree of privacy, and this should be reflected in the layout. Also, consider factors such as adequate lighting and sufficiently-sized desks.
- Promote a healthy lifestyle: While most SMEs will struggle to introduce an on-site gym or yoga classes, there are many things they can do to help staff maintain or improve their health and fitness. By encouraging staff to leave work on time and to make full use of their non-working hours and annual leave, managers can ensure that their workforce has enough time to unwind. As studies show that regular exercise can improve mental health, employers should encourage fitness to benefit their staff’s minds in addition to their physical wellbeing. SMEs can do this by subsidising gym memberships for employees and promoting local sports classes that take place after work hours.
- Offer flexible hours: The cause of work-related stress isn’t always the employee’s workload. Often staff have life pressures to deal with that you know little about, such as juggling the school run or caring for elderly relatives. Allowing staff to work outside the traditional 9-5 model will help them manage their commitments outside work better, helping them feel that they’re doing a good job both at home and work.
Mental illness is only exacerbated by stress, and it’s crucial that SMEs take any steps they can to reduce any unnecessary pressure that employees are facing. It begins with establishing how the business can best support staff, boost morale, and keep the team performing at its best. Employees who feel supported in the workplace are less likely to take sick days and remain able to perform at the required level. A few simple steps can go a long way to supporting mental health and wellbeing, resulting in a happier and healthier workforce, and a more productive one too