Is Your Organisation’s Mental Health Policy Fit for Purpose?

folder_openEmployee Relations, Home Working, Policies, Wellbeing
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Have you noticed any changes in your wellbeing over the past 18 months?

With the world having turned upside-down around us, it’s hard to imagine anybody sailing through these immensely challenging times feeling unscathed – mentally or physically.

So if you’re in charge of an organisation, or a team within one, you will almost certainly have noted some significant shifts in the way your people think, feel, and approach their work.

The CIPD’s 2021 survey, Health and wellbeing at work (in partnership with Simplyhealth) shone a spotlight on these shifts, highlighting the fact that in a year dominated by mental health concerns, “employers and employees have had to deal with a host of challenges, from sickness and loss to furlough and redundancy.”

The survey found that only one in 10 organisations hadn’t experienced any absence at all due to Covid-19, and that mental ill health is the primary cause of long-term absence.  Presenteeism and leave-ism were found to be “widespread, with many employees feeling like they can’t switch off.”

While it was noted that more employers are considering their employees’ mental health needs, the survey also concluded that there is “significant room for improvement – particularly in the area of line manager support.” 

The CIPD’s survey findings are compounded by further insights, including recent research into 100 UK firms and over 700 global companies, by the professional services firm Aon.

When asked to assess themselves against 10 key resilience attributes set out by the World Health Organisation, 28% of the UK firms surveyed did not think they supported mental health in a way that “fits the modern day.”

This makes sense, when we consider the stressful effects of Covid-19 not only on physical health, but in the intense ‘stop-start’ nature of our lives and work due to national lockdown restrictions.

What exactly is “mental health?”

The Mental Health Foundation simply describe mental health as “‘emotional health’ or ‘wellbeing’”.  Mental health is “just as important as physical health.”

A person who is in good mental health, the Foundation describes, can cope with life and make the most of their potential, as well as playing a full part in their workplace.

It would therefore benefit organisations to focus on supporting their employees’ mental health; not just to reduce absenteeism and productivity at work, but to help ensure that they are able cope with life’s many challenges when they’re not.

What can organisations do to promote good employee mental health post Covid-19?

Training and communication are key. 

According to the CIPD survey findings, there was a “disappointing fall” in the number of organisations who were training line managers to support employees with mental health issues, while “more action is needed to manage the health risks from increased home working.”

Many organisations have tools and policies in place to help them tackle sickness absence, such as paid or unpaid family leave, return-to-work interviews, and triggers to review attendance. 

However, line managers should be trained to confidently hold full, open conversations with individual team members about their mental health, so they can offer the right support, or direct them to specialist services (such as those provided by the organisation’s Employee Assistance Programme, or a mental health-focused charity like Mind) if needed.

Unfortunately, even following seismic global events that have changed the landscape of work, there is still a widespread sense of shame about mental health, particularly in the workplace.  Ongoing communication is therefore particularly vital, to help de-stigmatise the need for support.

Organisations should begin by listening to the needs of their employees – perhaps starting with a confidential internal survey – and use this data to shape the implementation of a detailed, comprehensive, and culture-specific policy. 

Be prepared to include wellbeing issues you may not previously have considered, such as financial wellbeing, which the CIPD has highlighted as a significant cause of employee stress.

Whether you are developing a mental health policy from scratch, or amending an existing policy, as the CIPD explains in its health and wellbeing recommendations for practitioners, we must not “underestimate the ongoing impact of Covid-19”. 

Above all else, your employees need to know that your organisation takes their mental health seriously, and that they will be able to find deeper information and support for themselves should they need it.

As experienced and qualified experts in people management, our team at Viridian HR can assist you in devising a mental health policy.  To begin a confidential conversation about your organisation and needs, please get in touch.

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