Health and wellbeing has been in the spotlight over the last year and a half, and I don’t remember a time when mental wellbeing has been so openly discussed: whether talking about our children and young people who have missed so much schooling during Covid 19, financial worries when the economy ground to a halt in March 2020, or feelings of isolation felt by those who have been unable to see or hug their family members.
A recent survey from Public Health Wales found that nearly half of respondents felt that their mental health is worse now than before the pandemic, with women and young people more likely to report this decline in mental health.
So, perhaps one of the more positive outcomes from the pandemic is this greater willingness to discuss mental health and wellbeing and put it to the top of the business agenda. I think we’ve all been far more open to admit that isolation, the relentless news and the sheer worry about family and friends has impacted many of us, both as individuals and as businesses. Feeling overwhelmed when the world has been turned upside down shouldn’t be something to be ashamed of.
The statistics about mental health are stark: one commonly quoted statistic is that 1 in 4 of us will suffer a mental health issue at some point in our lives. The mental health charity MIND estimates that 1 in 6 workers experience common mental health problems such as anxiety and depression and that work is the biggest cause of stress in people’s lives, more so than debt or financial problems.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) cites mental health related absence as the most common cause of long-term sickness absence in UK workplaces. And, earlier this year, the CIPD found that 80% of organisations were worried about the impact of Covid 19 on employees’ mental health.
Given that so many of us are likely to suffer from mental health issues at some point, it makes sense to consider the economic value that people with mental health issues generate. The Mental Health Foundation estimated in 2016 that the value added to the economy by people who are at work and have or have had mental health problems is as high as £225bn a year – representing a staggering 12.1% of the UK’s total GPD. The same report found that 86% of the survey respondents believed their job and being at work was important to protecting and maintaining their mental health.
So how can small businesses, often without a human resources team to develop and implement policies and ideas, support their teams and individuals who may be suffering in silence.
As a small business ourselves, these are some of the actions we’ve taken and plan to take to support the mental wellbeing of our colleagues. Earlier this year a couple of our team members volunteered to organise “coffee roulette” between colleagues: every couple of weeks participants are randomly matched to have a virtual coffee with each other. Talking about work is most definitely not on the agenda for these virtual coffees! We have found it has been a great way to re-connect with colleagues who we don’t usually work with, new joiners have “met” the wider team, and it has helped combat isolation.
We have also introduced an outsourced counselling service which our team members can access for confidential counselling on a range of issues. Four team members have recently taken part in mental health awareness training and we hope to train more colleagues and have mental health first aiders in place. Following this training, we have a small working group in place to share ideas that we can implement.
And finally, we launched our “Wellbeing” day. Our whole team has worked incredibly hard since the start of the pandemic, supporting our clients and delivering programmes on behalf of our partners, looking out for each other, whilst juggling home schooling, shopping for family members or friends who have been shielding, and trying to keep safe. Sadly, like many other businesses and communities, we have lost loved ones in this awful pandemic.
So we made no apology that our team members put on their “out of office” and enjoyed a well-deserved day to focus on whatever helps their wellbeing; this was by way of a very small “thankyou” to a team of exceptional colleagues who have gone above and beyond.