Work-related stress and poor mental health risk becoming a health and safety crisis for Great Britain's workplaces
This quote from the HSE serves as a stark reminder of the situation we find ourselves in, not just in the UK, but globally. On the 16th of November 2021, the HSE launched its new campaign ‘Working Minds’, which aims to help businesses recognise the signs of work-related stress and make tackling issues routine.
While the Working Minds campaign specifically targets around six million workers in small businesses, the HSE is calling for a culture change across all of Britain’s workplaces.
Work-related stress and poor mental health should be treated with the same significance as risks of poor physical health and injury. In terms of the effect it has on workers, significant and long-term stress can limit performance and impact personal lives. No worker should suffer in silence and if we don’t act now to improve workers’ mental health, this could evolve into a health and safety crisis.The pandemic has highlighted the need to protect the health of employees who have faced unprecedented challenges; the Government is committed to building back better and we want to make sure good mental health is central to this.
The campaign will focus on reminding employers of their duties while championing reducing work-related stress.
Employers and workers wanting to know more about the Working Minds campaign, including the legal obligations, advice, and tools available, should visit: workright.campaign.gov.uk/campaigns/workingminds.
Labour Force Survey from HSE
Back in November 2020, the HSE released their findings on work-related stress, anxiety and depression in Great Britain and rather unsurprisingly, most of the statistics made for difficult reading; especially when you consider that the data used for this report had been up to March 2020 and hadn’t taken into account the effects of COVID-19.
The Labour Force Survey report found that in 2019/20:
- 828,000 workers had suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety (new or long-standing)
- 17.9 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety
- The rate of self-reported work-related stress, depression or anxiety had increased dramatically in recent years
- Industries with higher than average rates of stress, depression or anxiety included:
- Electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply
- Public administration and defence
- Human health and social work activities
- Females between 35-44 were most likely to self-report stress, depression or anxiety, with males between 25-34 being the least likely
- Workplaces with more than 250 staff have higher rates of self-reported work-related stress, depression or anxiety
- The biggest contributors of stress, depression or anxiety were:
- Lack of support
- Changes at work
- Violence, threats or bullying
- Lack of control
- Role uncertainty
The impact of COVID-19
For many, it’s been plainly obvious that COVID-19 has had an adverse impact on this already worrying issue, but emerging evidence from a number of bodies has started to confirm this, although the full impact of the pandemic is yet to be understood.
- Those who were more likely to struggle with their mental health before the pandemic have been most affected
- Around a third of adults and young people said their mental health health has got much worse since March 2020
- 55% of adults and young adults are worried about seeing or being near other people as restrictions ease
- One in five adults did not seek support during the pandemic because they didn’t think their problem was serious enough
- Nine in ten young people have said that loneliness has made their mental health worse during the pandemic
What can workplaces do?
It is evident that poor mental health is an epidemic in itself, and organisations have a responsibility to ensure their employees health, safety, and wellbeing are always in their best interest.
With that said, there are a number of ways employers can support their employee’s wellbeing...
Support staff with workloads and promote transparency
One of the most common mental health issues in modern workplaces is burnout. It comes as a result of too much stress and pressure and can leave any person feeling low.
However, burnout can be avoided very easily, and it is far easier to prevent than it is to cure.
The most effective way to steer clear of staff burnout is by avoiding giving staff workloads that they will struggle to handle by themselves. In many cases, employers have no choice but to distribute large workloads, however, staff should be given a clear understanding of the support employers can provide them with. For example, whether they are able to request for some of their work to be delegated elsewhere.
Ultimately, employees should be able to raise these types of concerns with their manager. That’s why transparency is key in a successful workplace. And not just transparency when it comes to discussing workloads; staff should feel able to discuss their mental health openly with their managers and their colleagues. Promoting transparency can ultimately reduce lost working days through becoming more aware of mental ill-health before it really starts to take hold.
Communicate change thoroughly and explain the ‘why’
We are living in a world where businesses are driven by change. There is no way to avoid it, and it can only be embraced, but for many, embracing change is not easy and it doesn’t come naturally.
There are a number of issues that can arise from changes at work if change is not dealt with properly, and that includes upsetting and demotivating staff.
All employees should be made to feel like their opinion counts, and employers should try to collect their input before any major changes that affect them are made. When a decision has been made, it is important that employers thoroughly explain what is changing and more importantly, why. Taking the time to explain new changes demonstrates thoughtfulness and helps employees to feel valued. Make it clear how the change will impact them and why it needs to happen - the more open you are and the more you explain the change to staff, the more receptive they will be.
Offer support in the form of training and Mental Health First Aiders
The purpose of a Mental Health First Aider (MHFA) is to be a point of contact for staff if they are experiencing emotional distress or suffering with mental health issues and need somebody to talk to confidentially.
By having a designated MHFA, organisations can equip themselves with an individual who is trained to:
- Listen to what people are saying without judgement
- Spot early signs of mental ill-health
- Encourage people to use additional support
- Know when to contact the emergency services
By providing employees with this designated point of contact, they can be assured that their wellbeing is taken into account and that support is available to them should they need it.
It’s also a good idea and for many, a great starting point, to invest in bitesize mental health and wellbeing awareness courses for staff that don’t interfere too much work and can be completed in their own time
Incentivise hard work and make staff feel valued
There’s no feeling quite like being praised for your hard work. That buzz you feel when winning an award at a ceremony, or when you are handed an “employee of the month” award.
That feeling is a mix of emotions, but is predominantly made up of pride. Employers should always be on the lookout for employees who are going above and beyond in their field of work and they should acknowledge these employees.
By giving employees this feeling of proudness, it motivates them to continue with their hard work and goes a long way in making them feel valued.
However, it is important that all employees are made to feel valued and appreciated, else you’ll be at risk of other employees feeling isolated and lonely, which can have knock-on effects to their mental wellbeing.
There are many ways that employers can incentivise hard work and acknowledge their employee’s efforts without breaking the bank, including:
- Hosting an awards night
- Providing an “employee of the month” award
- Sending a “thank you” letter or gift
- Arranging a staff meal or other activity
- Having a 1-2-1 that is purely around their great work and thanking them for the efforts
For more tips on supporting your workforce with their mental health and wellbeing, read our blog on reaching out to your workforce about their mental health.
Mental Health & Wellbeing eLearning courses
A super effective way for organisations to offer mental support to their employees is by making them aware of certain mental challenges and equipping them with the tools to recognise mental health issues in themselves and others.
Here at iHASCO, we offer a range of Mental Health & Wellbeing Training courses that cover areas such as:
- Mental Health Awareness
- Mental Health Awareness for Management
- Stress Awareness & Management
- Managing Anxiety
Our courses can be used as a stepping stone towards breaking the negative stigma surrounding mental health, and they equip staff with the knowledge and tools they need to better manage their own wellbeing.