Mental Health in the workplace: Prioritizing employee wellbeing in the UK

Eloise Hall, interim head of accounts at Kensington Mortgages, discusses recent changes in UK mental health in different demographics, the benefits of prioritizing mental health in the workplace, and ways in which individuals and companies can support themselves, colleagues, and employees with their mental health.

Related topics:  Finance News,  Special Features
Eloise Hall | Kensington Mortgages
26th May 2023
Eloise Hall
"Nearly half (48%) of employees say their mental wellbeing declined in 2022, and 28% said they are miserable in their workplace."

Mental health issues have become increasingly prevalent in the UK workforce, with 1 in 4 people experiencing a mental health problem each year. In the financial services sector, where high-pressure environments and long working hours are commonplace, the problem is even more acute. According to a recent study, 52% of finance professionals have experienced poor mental health as a result of their job.

Despite this, mental health has historically been a taboo subject in the workplace. However, there has been a recent shift in attitudes towards mental health, with companies across the UK recognizing the importance of creating a supportive work environment for their employees.

Recent changes in UK mental health

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on mental health in the UK, with many people struggling with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues as a result of the pandemic. According to recent research, over half of UK adults (53%) say that their mental health has worsened as a result of the pandemic.

One demographic that has experienced a rise in mental health issues is young people. According to the NHS Digital survey, 18% of children aged between 7 and 16 experienced at least one mental disorder, with this rising to 22% for young people aged 17 to 24. This demographic has been particularly affected by issues such as social media pressure, bullying, and academic pressures.

Another demographic that has experienced an increase in mental health issues is men. Traditionally, men have been less likely to discuss their mental health or seek help, but this is changing. According to the Men's Health Forum, men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women. On a positive note though, the suicide rate for men in the UK has been declining slowly since 1981, indicating that the conversation around mental health for men is slowly becoming more open and making a difference.

Finally, job role can also impact mental health. The financial services industry, for example, has traditionally been associated with high stress levels, long hours, and a competitive culture. As a result, people in this industry may be more likely to experience mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. According to recent data from Champion Health, 9% of employees are currently experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, and employees experiencing financial stress are twice as likely to experience thoughts of suicide or self-harm. Financial services workers were said to be most likely to see their mental health negatively affected by the pandemic with over 52% stating their mental health had worsened in the last year.

However, there has also been a shift in attitudes towards mental health in recent years, with individuals becoming more open about their mental health struggles and companies recognizing the importance of supporting their employees' mental health. For example, the UK government launched several initiatives designed to create a supportive culture, provide employees with access to mental health support, and reduce stigma.

The mortgage industry specifically has responded to the mental health topic and the Mortgage Industry Mental Health Charter has been gaining traction in recent months with many companies, including Kensington Mortgages, signing to their mental health pledge. The Intermediary Mortgage Lenders Association and the Association of Mortgage Intermediaries has also partnered together on their website: Working in Mortgages - which aims to make the mortgage industry more inclusive for all. The stigma surrounding mental health in the workplace is slowly being addressed, and companies are becoming more aware of the importance of supporting employees in this area.

The importance of mental health in the workplace

Mental health in the workplace is a critical issue that affects individuals, companies, and society as a whole. Recent data has highlighted the significant impact that mental health problems have on the UK workforce. For example, according to a survey conducted by Mind, a mental health charity, 1 in 6 people experience mental health problems in the workplace, which is almost 15% of the workforce. This highlights the prevalence of mental health issues in the workplace, which affects all sectors, including the finance industry. In fact, 86% of organizations in the UK finance industry experienced an increase in demand for mental health support in 2021, the highest among the sectors surveyed.

Moreover, poor workplace mental health is expensive for companies. Poor workplace mental health costs UK employers around £56 billion every year, with a 25% increase since 2019. This is mainly due to the cost of sickness absence and presenteeism (employees who come to work but are not productive due to poor mental health). For instance, employees take around 18 days off a year to deal with stress, depression, or anxiety, while taking around 10 days for injuries, 17 days for physical ill-health, and 15 days for musculoskeletal disorders. This shows how mental health problems in the workplace can lead to significant costs and disruptions for businesses.

Nearly half (48%) of employees say their mental wellbeing declined in 2022, and 28% said they are miserable in their workplace. This is an alarming trend that needs to be addressed to improve the well-being of employees and the productivity of companies.

Research has also shown that happier employees are 13% more productive. This highlights the importance of mental health in the workplace and the benefits to companies who get this right.

Prioritizing mental health in the workplace not only benefits employees but also has positive impacts on businesses. Companies that prioritize mental health are more likely to have higher levels of employee engagement, lower rates of absenteeism and presenteeism, and increased productivity.

Furthermore, businesses that invest in mental health support for their employees are likely to attract and retain talent. Employees are more likely to stay with a company that supports their mental health and wellbeing, and businesses that prioritize mental health are more likely to attract talented individuals who value a supportive work environment.

Ways to support mental health in the workplace

There are several ways in which individuals and companies can support their own mental health and that of their colleagues and employees. Firstly, companies should prioritize creating a supportive work culture that promotes open communication about mental health. This can involve providing employees with access to mental health support and training managers to recognize the signs of poor mental health in their teams.

Companies should also prioritize flexible working arrangements to support their employees' work-life balance. This can include offering flexible working hours, remote working options and employee benefits which can be used to support mental well-being.

By normalising conversations around mental health within a company its likely this will encourage the right type of engagement from employees. Some examples of this could be embedding well-being checks within one-to-ones, leading by example and not sending emails outside of business hours that do not need to be actioned immediately and educating and raising awareness both internally and externally.

Individuals can also take steps to prioritize their own mental health in the workplace. This can involve setting boundaries around work hours, taking regular breaks to recharge and giving yourself ‘meeting free time’ in your calendar. It is also important for individuals to seek support when they need it, whether that involves speaking to a manager, accessing mental health support services, or speaking to friends and family. There are also a number of support numbers available throughout the UK that you can reach out to if you need support for your own mental health or if you need support in helping someone close to you.

In summary, mental health issues are affecting a range of demographics in the UK, and companies need to take these changes into consideration when developing their mental health strategies. By recognizing the different needs of different groups, companies can create a more inclusive and supportive work environment.

Mental health in the workplace is a critical issue that affects individuals and businesses alike. While there is still a long way to go in terms of creating a supportive work environment for all employees, there has been progress in recent years towards recognizing the importance of mental health in the workplace. Companies that prioritize mental health are likely to have happier, healthier, and more productive employees, and individuals who prioritize their own mental health are likely to be more successful and fulfilled in their careers. By working together to prioritize mental health in the workplace, we can create a more supportive industry for all.

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