As many of us are already aware, some stress is good – it’s a biological imperative that keeps us safe and gets us out of bed in the morning.  But when this stress becomes regular or sustained – obsessing over the ‘should/could/woulds’ – it becomes unhealthy.

The last few years have undoubtedly contributed to feelings of overload for many people, with seemingly endless reams of bad news and things to worry about.

It has become such a common problem that currently one in four people suffer from a mental health problem of some kind each year in England, with one in six people reporting a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression) in any given week.

Unsurprisingly, mental health is the leading cause of sickness absence in the workplace, with a staggering 70 million work days lost each year due to mental health problems in the UK alone – costing employers approximately £2.4 billion per year. When it comes to the workplace, clearly a person experiencing excessive stress will find it difficult to focus on the job at hand or perform to the best of their ability. In short, you are not going to get the best out of them, and the likelihood is that they will eventually burn out.


What are the best approaches to mental health?

At the end of last year, Firstup conducted a survey among 23,000 respondents across the UK, United States, Germany, Nordic countries and Benelux, and the findings on what employees think of their companies’ approach to mental health were very concerning:

  • 7% of the employees noted that their employer only started showing interest in supporting their mental health since the pandemic
  • 4% felt that their employer has the intention to support their mental health, but they don’t feel supported
  • 1% of employees believe that their employer does not support their mental health and it makes them feel worthless
  • Some employees describe their place of work as uncomfortable, unfamiliar, or unfriendly, and others feel that they don’t belong in their employers’ work environment – potentially adding to their mental health woes.

Clearly this is not a problem that can be ignored. However, supporting employees in a manner that prioritises mental wellness is not just about a monthly wellbeing check-in or team-building sessions. It means making human connections a priority and creating a space where employees feel safe and empowered to share their concerns and perspectives.


Mental health management should be a top priority

The research also showed a clear desire from employees for mental health management in the workplace to be more of a priority – and how employee engagement can be integral in facilitating that:

  • 6% of respondents want designated mental health days
  • 38% want their employers to create a better line of communication between executives and employees
  • 20% want company communications and messages delivered to the places they spend their workday in.

As leaders we should be setting an example: prioritising our own mental wellbeing and being aware of that of our colleagues’. A mindset change, from the top down, is required so that it can become part of the organisation’s evolved culture.


So how can businesses help to create an environment of positive mental health management?

Firstly, we are social creatures by nature. We need human connections. This has become even more difficult over the last few years with many more employees working remotely, but creating spaces where people can work and engage as a team – be it virtually or physically – should be a priority for all businesses.

Secondly, promoting a culture where respectful conflict is accepted and encouraged. Creating a safe space for employees to share their views and engage in healthy disagreements will not only have positive mental health benefits but will also help to inspire new business ideas.

Thirdly, make communications personal. All of us have a need to feel valued and connected, and ensuring that your communications meet employees where they are, and provide them with the information and resources to do their job to the best of their ability, regardless of role, shift pattern, or locations, will go a long way to fostering this.

When you look at the economic cost of mental illness on business, it stands to reason that creating a work environment that supports and encourages mental health is good for business.

But it doesn’t end there. Gone are the days when it’s simply about climbing the career ladder at any cost. Many people are now realising they also need a sense of purpose, a desire to improve the world we live in, and are seeking out employers that provide an opportunity to feel like they are making a difference, regardless of how ‘corporate’ an environment it may be.


Retaining top talent

Employers that offer this will be the ones attracting, and retaining, the top talent – which has an impact across the whole organisation. In fact, according to Harvard Business Review, companies incorporating ‘conscious capitalism’ perform 10 times better than their peers.

I often feel like a broken record, saying over and over that an organisation’s people – and engaging with those people – should be a priority. If a leader gets this right, everything else will fall into place. If they don’t, it won’t.

A business is built on its employees. Take care of them. Help them to be the best, and happiest, they can be, and the benefits will be huge.

Brittany Barhite Firstup
Brittany Barhite
Communications Director at Firstup

Experienced communications and marketing professional who specializes in storytelling to influence the hearts and minds of targeted audiences. Skilled in well-executed communication strategies and passionate about creative branding efforts. Strong educational background with a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) focused in leader communications.