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Mental Health and the Bottom Line

A new decade focuses minds on the future and new strategies to encourage companies and individuals to thrive. And if there’s one commitment that the City should make in the 2020s, it’s to treat the mental health of staff as seriously as their physical health and safety.

Directors know that they are legally obligated to ensure a safe working environment for their staff.  Now, in a world with stress levels as high as the buildings we work in, we need the equivalent care for mental wellbeing.

Last week, Deloitte published figures showing that poor mental health costs UK employers up to £45bn a year. Work-related stress, anxiety, or depression now accounts for over half of all working days lost due to ill health. In total, 15.4m working days were lost in 2017/18 as a result of mental health issues, up from 12.5m in 2016, according to figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

It doesn’t have to be this way. As HSE’s senior psychologist Peter Kelly says: “Pressure is the new norm but stress is a preventable condition at work. The time to act is now.”

Fortunately, businesses are beginning to take note. Andrew Rodgers, former director of wellbeing at HSBC and now founder of Re Envisage, explains why the bank made mental wellbeing a priority: “At HSBC, we wanted to create the healthiest human system in financial services. Our former CEO John Flint recognised a healthy workforce was a productive one. He felt the organisation wasn’t achieving its potential because of an unhealthy pressure. It was a response to the ‘industry norm’ of passing pressure and urgency down the line, which can promote unhealthy adrenaline and fear.”

Flint’s approach instigated conversations around mental health from the ground up. Rodgers worked with leadership teams on creating caring environments, helping to identify and resolve unhealthy stress.

The next generation

This isn’t just an issue affecting existing employees. Increasingly, recruitment of top talent relies on a wellbeing strategy too.

A 2019 report by the CIPD found that only a third of private sector employers have a specific wellbeing strategy. This needs to change.

The steps are simple. Be proactive. Remove stigma by talking about mental health regularly. Make someone at board level responsible for wellbeing. Stop treating the office like a battlefield. Enable people to be confident in having supportive conversations with colleagues. Don’t expect staff to “toughen up”; instead, instil purpose and energy — a belief that they are the best and are supported in their role.

Make colleagues know that their views are valued. Start building a culture of trust rather than fear. Staff will thrive — and so will productivity.

Article by Amanda Perrotten