Keeping employees safe from harm at work is at the top of the agenda these days – after all, it is a statutory duty of care. But how can businesses look after the mental health and wellbeing of their employees as much as their physical health?
A total of 18 million working days were lost in the UK during 2019/20 due to stress, anxiety and depression. With the adverse impact of the pandemic on many people’s mental health, employers now have a duty of care to manage the main risks of stress and mental ill health among their employees.
Recent CIPD research shows that the main risks to employee health are now psychological, with mental illness and stress being two of the top three causes of long-term absences.
The CIPD advise organisations to take a holistic approach and provide good work for people that helps to prevent ill health. ‘Good work’ is defined as work that is rewarded, providing people with the means to securely make a living; it gives opportunities to develop, and provides a sense of fulfilment. Organisations also need to focus on the wider dimensions of wellbeing, including financial wellbeing.
Whilst there are calls for the Government to take specific action to help employers with inclusion and to provide the Health and Safety Executive with the resources to promote risk assessments for work-related stress, there are recommendations for employers which can be actioned now, rather than waiting for statutory guidance.
Companies can develop their own Wellbeing Strategy. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to designing an effective wellbeing strategy – its content should be based on the organisation’s unique needs and characteristics, and those of its employees. It should start at the top, making senior leaders champions of the health and wellbeing agenda.
Line managers and supervisors should also be trained to manage people well. They should be comfortable having sensitive conversations and offer support and flexibility when a team member needs it.
Additional recommendations include providing early access to specialist sources of help such as counselling or psychotherapy, understanding the causes of absence and unhealthy practices such as ‘presenteeism’ and ‘leaveism’ and carrying out risk assessments or audits on work-related stress as part of a preventive approach to identify main causes.
A tailored Wellbeing Strategy will help build a framework to promote good mental wellbeing and foster a company culture where people can talk about mental health and seek help where needed.
Alison Paton FCIPD, LLM, MSc is the Founder and Managing Director of Align People HR. She is also the Vice-Chair of the CIPD North of Scotland & Islands branch.