Laura Benton, COO, Reassured
Most of us know what it feels like to be stressed, with 79% of adults admitting to feeling stressed at least once a month, but, left unchecked, it can take its toll on employee wellbeing, leading to mental health problems including depression, anxiety and burnout.
Campaigns like International Stress Awareness Week and World Mental Health Day offer businesses a great opportunity to kickstart conversations around employee wellbeing and encourage employees to think about the importance of looking after their mental health. However, it is vital that companies don’t simply jump on the bandwagon for the sake of it. If leaders wax lyrical about employee wellbeing for one week but fail to take practical steps to encourage and support their employees throughout the rest of the year it can be hard for staff to see those acts as genuine. This risks leaving employees feeling frustrated and disengaged.
We all have ‘something’
Research from Mind has shown that as many as one in four people in the UK will experience some kind of mental health issue every year, with one in six experiencing common issues such as anxiety and depression in any given week. Indeed, at Reassured, it is our belief that everyone has something, and it is those who claim not to have any issues that are the lucky few, not the majority.
When our mental health is good, we feel able to cope with whatever life throws at us, but certain events or triggers have the potential to make all of us experience feelings of worry, sadness, stress or anxiety at different points in our lives.
This has been clear to see over the past two years. Mental health diagnoses have skyrocketed, with successive lockdowns seeing many people stretched to their limit. And while life has started to resume some sense of normality, our research found UK employees are more stressed than ever, with more than a third of workers saying their stress levels had risen since lockdown restrictions were eased.
No-one is immune to experiencing these feelings, but there is still a huge stigma in the workplace that we need to overcome, with nearly two fifths of Brits fearing that opening up about a mental health problem at work would jeopardise their career.
Supportive and caring workplaces shouldn’t be a ‘nice-to-have’, they are an absolute must if we are to build happier and healthier workforces. Everyone should feel comfortable bringing their full selves to work, including their worries, struggles or fears, and this can only be achieved by putting the right steps and support in place to provide the best possible, tailored care for every member of staff.
While there is no magic solution to ensuring all employees feel ok all of the time, treating staff well – and having a little emotional intelligence – can go a long way to creating workforces that feel supported, cared for and valued.
Research has shown that 66% of managers wouldn’t know what to do if an employee told them they were struggling with their mental wellbeing and 49% said they didn’t know how to support mental health and wellbeing more generally in the workplace. These stats paint a worrying picture.
With mental health a priority for all employees, managers need to be equipped to support their staff and this means embedding preventative training into their people management strategies right across the organisation.
Leaders and managers have a huge role to play in shaping the culture and trust of employees. If they approach conversations with openness and empathy, it will encourage people to feel comfortable speaking up and expressing their emotions. A great way of helping companies to achieve this is through emotional intelligence and mental health first aid training.
Emotional intelligence is made up of five key skills; self-awareness, emotional regulation, empathy, motivation and social skills. It’s the ability to understand and manage a person’s own emotions and those of people around them.
Managers with a high degree of emotional intelligence are much better communicators because they respond well to their team’s emotions by reading body language and picking up on subtle changes that might signal sadness, disappointment or worry. This means they’re able to tailor how they share news and interact with people in a way that suits their individual personalities.
Investing in training to help build these skills not only helps to create more compassionate and caring environments but sends out a powerful message that the business takes the mental wellbeing of all its employees seriously.
When employees feel like their needs are important to the business and are properly considered, they will feel more valued and appreciated and this can work wonders for staff morale, loyalty and productivity.
And with firms warning of ‘The Great Resignation’ as employees take stock and reflect on what they want from their work life, it will be more important than ever for employers to make sure their employees’ emotional needs are understood and met.
Supporting employee wellbeing is not simply just the right thing to do, helping to create happier, healthier workforces, but it makes good business sense too. Stressed, anxious and depressed employees are not conducive to productive and well-performing businesses and can have a knock-on impact on the rest of the team. The way businesses handle communication around the return to the office and other big decisions in the coming months will be a great chance for managers to put those skills to the test.