SMEs must take the lead on improving mental health at work

Mental health & employee wellbeing

Posted on 26 Nov 2019

SMEs employ 60% of all private sector workers in the UK, yet they are still lagging behind larger companies when it comes to taking action to reduce work-related mental health issues.

The recently published YouGov survey ‘Mental Health at Work Report 2019 – Time to Take Ownership’ reported that 39% of the 4,000+ employees surveyed had experienced poor mental health related to work in the past year. The three main causes were too much pressure, being unable to take holiday because of workload and a lack of support. Negative working relationships, including a lack of connection with their managers, also emerged as possible root causes of some employees’ mental health problems.

It is estimated that the annual cost of mental health issues to employers is £34.9 billion, yet 62% of managers said they have had no option but to put the interests of their company above employee well-being, sometimes as often as every day. Taking action to improve employee well-being is not just the humane thing to do, it also makes good commercial sense.

Responsible leadership

Senior leaders should act as a role model good behaviour by encouraging openness to and understanding of mental health issues. Critically, they should walk the talk by consistently making day-to-day decisions that clearly demonstrate they put people first.

Equipping line managers

According to the Institute of Leadership Management, training is essential to give managers the confidence to instigate a conversation about a possible mental health issue if they recognise a change in someone’s behaviour. But this is only possible if the relationship between the manager and their employee is authentic and open in the first place. This takes time and effort on the part of the manager, but the potential pay back is enormous.

Good people management practices

Research shows that job quality, engagement and productivity, and employee health and well-being are all closely linked. Companies that make the most extensive use of good people management practices are over three times more likely to have lower absence rates, when compared with organisations that do not prioritise people management to the same degree. They are also twice as likely to have staff with the highest levels of job satisfaction and over three times more likely to have the highest levels of employee engagement.

Providing tailored support

A significant proportion of employees who reported experiencing mental health issues were dismissed or resigned. In their opinion, this was largely a result of their employer’s inflexible approach when it came to making reasonable adjustments to enable them to return to work. Flexitime, working from home, a redistribution of the workload and counselling were all high up the list in terms of interventions to help employees to get back on their feet.

Financial well-being and mental health

Financial difficulties are one of the top three causes of non-work-related mental health problems, but the YouGov survey showed that only a small minority of employees are prepared to talk about this subject with their manager. Flexible working came out as a key way of easing some employees’ financial difficulties by reducing the cost of childcare and travel expenses. Engaging a qualified pensions/financial advisor to provide confidential advice to employees also came out as a useful tool to help alleviate employees’ money worries.

SMEs can be reluctant to invest in improving mental health in the workplace, perhaps because budgets are tight or there might be a perception that the close-knit working environment would act as a natural support network. However, given the scale of the problem and the potential impact on a business, it makes good sense to look for ways to help employees overcome mental health issues without breaking the bank.

For more information surrounding mental health and what your business can do better, get in touch!

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