Aviva’s Age of Ambiguity research clearly highlights the impact the current situation is having on the health of the UK workforce. In August, 43 per cent of employees ranked their mental health between ‘very bad’ and ‘fair’, a rise of 5 per cent since February. Moreover, more than half (52 per cent) agreed the boundaries between their work and home life are becoming increasingly blurred – up from 40 per cent in February. This has resulted in many employees working longer hours and not taking time off when they’re unwell.
If left unchecked, these behaviours are likely to have a detrimental effect on both their physical and mental wellbeing. Moreover, employers may find they start to see an increase in staff attrition, just at the time they need to retain their most valuable assets – their employees.
Supporting mental wellbeing
Our study of over 2,000 employees also revealed that whilst employers are taking positive steps to support their workforce, their efforts are having limited impact on morale and motivation. Worryingly, just a quarter of employees agreed that their employer is genuinely concerned about their wellbeing.
One of the reasons behind this could be that the company’s culture doesn’t support what they’re saying. It’s all very well for your clients’ leaders to encourage their teams to look after their wellbeing – if they’re leading by example. It’s no good if they’re booking meetings over lunch, expecting an immediate reply to emails sent out of ‘normal’ working hours and expecting a task to be delivered in tight timescales, despite the person already being under pressure.
Leadership strategies should focus on empathy, care, communication and resilience. Above all, they need to be authentic. Talking wellbeing and mental health in an ‘always on’ working environment simply won’t work. Your clients’ leaders need to demonstrate, encourage and actively enable behaviours that foster a culture of employee wellbeing.
Putting support in place
You should encourage your clients to give their people a reason to talk about their mental health by establishing a culture that values authenticity and openness. The introduction of mental health champions can aid this. It’s good to include diversity in this group to ensure that the strategy is inclusive. It’s also important that your clients recognise the mental health component of wider equality initiatives.
The most important thing is to understand the unique needs of your client’s workforce. There’s no one size fits all approach. Any approach should help protect and improve the mental wellbeing of their employees, while offering individual support for those who are experiencing mental ill-health.
There’s a whole host of benefits available ranging from preventative services such as wellbeing support through to line manager training and counselling services. The most important thing is to ensure that your clients’ employees are aware of the support available to them and that the support is easily accessible. Your clients need to be prepared to adapt strategies as time goes by. Research tools such as regular ‘climate surveys’ can be useful to help benchmark how employees are feeling and build data about staff mental health to inform their wellbeing strategy.
The British Medical Journal’s blog ominously noted “There will be no vaccine for [the] mental health impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.” And whilst we’re now hearing positive news about vaccinations against the virus itself, this is an impact which is unlikely to suddenly disappear.
We still aren’t fully aware what the consequences of new working patterns and practices may be. Equally, the long-term effects of the virus itself are yet to be completely understood. We’re already seeing people experiencing conditions, such as chronic fatigue, which will need specialist support.
In times of uncertainty, the focus on workplace wellbeing almost certainly increases. However, when things pick up, many employers slip back into a ‘tick box exercise’ mentality. A few select benefits doesn’t make a strategy. Workplace wellbeing needs to become an integral part of a workforce’s culture that lives, breathes and evolves as needs change.
We’re already seeing an impact on both the mental and physical health of the UK’s workforce and without the right support in place, the situation is set to worsen. Despite us living in a time of ambiguity, what is clear is that workplace wellbeing has come to the fore in priority order – and now is the time for your clients to act.