The pandemic brought with it not only a different way of working, but for many an increase in workload and a decrease in work-life boundaries and mental health.
The blurring of work and home life
Home life has spilled over into work through Teams and Zoom as the world pivoted to the restrictions of lockdowns. Now, the fragmented landscape of employee wellbeing spreads across virtual, hybrid and back to the office full time situations, each with their own complications and intricacies. Coupled with a shift in where and how we work, comes the strains of daily life that have been magnified during the last few years where COVID has become part of all our lives.
Yet out of these uncharted times, emerged something unexpectedly positive. Employees became more willing to share feelings surrounding mental health, because of the collective experience we were all going through together. And with that, managers became more sympathetic, more concerned and more willing to ask.
Declining mental health in the workplace
Recent research* commissioned by SilverCloud, global provider of digital mental health solutions, focuses on the importance placed on mental health at work, both by employees and employers. The research revealed nearly half (46%) of employees felt that their mental health had worsened since the pandemic. One in five said the loneliness of remote working had impacted their mental health, while 22% struggled with the blurring of boundaries between home and work. Altogether, one in seven said they felt stressed at work every day, rising to 60% at least once a week. Over a third felt depressed over the past six months, while 24% shared that they had felt unable to cope.
While a certain amount of stress is natural throughout our lifetime, experiencing high levels of burnout and stress for a sustained period is counterproductive to both work and health. Almost 6 in 10 employees reported that their concentration (57%) and productivity (56%) levels were negatively impacted when they felt stressed. Forty per cent noticed a reduction in the quality of work they produced and just over one in four (26%) believed work-related stress had negatively affected their relationships with colleagues.
Organisations benefit from employee wellbeing practises
Most company owners have a moral and human concern for the wellbeing of their workforce, but there is a growing body of research which points to the fact that it should also be of strategic interest. Eighty per cent of employers from the SilverCloud research believe that their people are the company’s most valuable asset, and that supporting employee wellbeing is integral to success. Despite these statistics, only one third of companies who took part in the research have increased their wellbeing spend since the start of the pandemic. Only 28% of workers said their employer was providing enough support, and 50% actively wanted to see more. In fact, a third of respondents had never once been asked about their mental health at work.
Sir Cary Cooper, Professor of Organisational Psychology at Alliance Manchester Business School and a well-known advocate for workplace wellbeing, said:
Mental health in the workplace is no longer a ‘nice to have’, but instead should be viewed through a strategic lens which supports both economic impact and individual wellbeing. Businesses have a key responsibility to support and build a resilient workforce and put tools in place to manage and even prevent mental health issues in the first place.
Sir Cary Cooper, Professor of Organisational Psychology
An employer’s stance on wellbeing – and the supporting framework – is increasingly important when looking at talent acquisition and retention strategies within a company. Expectations have grown insofar as the role of the employer in an employee’s wellbeing, and in terms of the extent of mental wellness provision. Mental health as a subject is no longer shrouded in the taboo it once was, and employers are having to evolve quickly to address the need or lose out on having their pick of the crop, and holding on to them.
Those that have invested in their staff’s mental health and wellbeing report a direct correlation with overall profitability, with over half of employers reporting an increase in staff productivity. Outside of increases in outputs, the report also recorded 60% of employers seeing a reduction in absenteeism – which speaks to the additional days that employees have had to take off sick for mental health reasons, either their own, or those of close family members.
But are employers giving employees what they really want?
That said, there is still a disconnect between what employees want and what employers provide in terms of workplace wellbeing. The SilverCloud research revealed that the top measures employers are taking to protect their staffs’ mental heath include counselling, support for hybrid working and mindfulness training. It is evident progress is needed here as employees would most value ‘mental health’ days or a gym membership instead.
How leaders can take positive steps:
When asked, workplace wellbeing exponent Professor Sir Cary Cooper shared an eight-point plan needed to build a solid basis for a mental health and wellbeing strategy in the workplace:
1. Make mental health and wellbeing a board-level priority
2. Role model from the top
3. Measure what matters
4. Good work, with good culture
5. Focus on your line managers
6. Support the whole person
7. Be proactive
8. Listen to people
Ensuring mental health is a board-level priority will make certain that mental health does not fall off the agenda as more pressing priorities arise. Understanding the fact that mental health impacts the fortunes of an organisation is fundamental to long-term success and as such has become something which investors look to when assessing a company’s future potential.
Cost and time are the biggest barriers to instigating a mental wellness framework within an organisation. While private medical insurance may pick up the costs associated with mental health appointments and therapies, initiatives designed to help employees stay well and flourish are more time consuming to create and roll out.
Outsourcing is the usual route for HR to explore and often provides the most cost-effective solution. This route got the thumbs up by employees in the SilverCloud research, with 90% agreeing that digital apps and platforms were viable and valuable; with ‘anytime, anywhere’ accessibility and anonymity ranked in the top three user benefits.
Workers are often reluctant to talk openly and share how they are truly feeling, which is why digital tools are so important within a workplace setting. Businesses need to give their staff access to therapeutic tools they can use to manage and take control of their mental health. And for businesses, digital tools are scalable and can be personalised to suit individual employees’ needs.
About the research:
Census Wide research carried out in September 2022 with 1,000 employees in medium or large organisations (100+ employees) alongside a parallel survey of 500 company senior business leaders (C suite, HR managers and directors) at equivalent-sized organisations, across business sectors in the UK.
Dr Jorge Palacios
Jorge is a key driver of the research strategy and agenda at SilverCloud through the design, execution, and publication of research trials. He completed his medical degree in Mexico City, and thereafter won scholarships to undertake a Masters in Psychiatric Research and PhD in Psychological Medicine in London at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience (IoPPN), before joining SilverCloud in 2017. Jorge believes passionately in the potential of digital interventions to improve the mental health of populations at a large scale, helping more and more individuals have access to wellbeing solutions that fit their particular needs.