Chances are that you think you know your staff pretty well?
Well think on – there’s a more than high chance that significant numbers of your team are struggling with their health in a way that you know nothing about. This isn’t just a personal issue – it’s really impacting what they do at work. Recent research shows that a massive 65% of employees are struggling with their health in some capacity!! And of this figure most people are experiencing forms of mental distress as opposed to physical health issues.

So how come most bosses know nothing about this?

Sadly many employers believe that this isn’t anything to do with them. They are wrong! Mental distress is crippling businesses – costing employers directly an estimated £33-43 billion! A similar figure (£40bn) as allocated to education (UK central government) for 2018! This money is literally being poured down the drain! Yet it doesn’t have to be like this! The stigma about mental health is so strong that majority of people will not speak about it to their friends – and definitely not their manager. Fear of serious negative repercussions would appear to be justified given the increasing number of people who having disclosed their mental health condition then find themselves subject to disciplinary procedures, demotion or dismissal!

So whilst some are fearful of sharing their mental health issue – perhaps one that has been medically diagnosed, there are many who despite struggling are unaware that this could be something serious. Stress, depression, anxiety and burn out can all creep up on people and it may be some time before they become aware of it – sometimes they need other people to notice their behaviour or they need to understand the many physical symptoms that signal mental distress.

Many people just accept that feeling overwhelmed, tired and whatever other symptoms they are experiencing are normal because they don’t make the time to notice and become aware they may even expect to feel like this. The thing that tips people into mental ill-health usually isn’t one thing but an accumulation but without being aware of it they have been struggling and then one event tips the balance – perhaps causing some sort of crisis.

This then makes the role of the manager even more challenging – how can a manager be expected to notice mental distress in employees if they don’t even notice it themselves?

There are 2 main ways to find out about employee wellbeing:

Individual focused – this relies on directly asking employees how they are doing – or using your own observation skills to notice changes. There is a risk to this approach used in isolation – some employees may not be happy to share this with their manager – feeling that it is intrusive, that they are being picked out, that it could be used against them or held against them for promotion. And what then happens if an employee discloses a mental health condition? Is there a support structure for the employee? For the manager? Do you as the manager have the skills to manage this conversation in a sensitive manner? Are other managers having these conversations too? Some managers are having informal conversations at the water cooler or the photocopier but only because this particular manager connects with people at an emotional level. Managers do need to learn how to have difficult mental wellbeing conversations and there should be an organisational endorsed approach that is used across the board. Until that happens though it may be safer to look at the Organisational Focused approaches below to help you find out if your team are likely to be struggling at work.

Organisational focused
1. Staff surveys can be used to ask about mental wellbeing – but this only works if staff feel safe enough to disclose how they feel. Most don’t when it comes to mental health. Surveys are also problematic as a reliable methodology and devising the right questions to get the answers desired is often an issue for those who aren’t research skilled. Employees are surveyed so often these days that they have become cynical, feeling that employers reasons for surveying are more about ticking a box only, not because they genuinely care and are doing something about the issues that matter to staff. Action needs to happen otherwise demoralisation occurs – making staff wellbeing worse.

2. Absenteeism figures – costs employers £8 billion a year – this is particularly a problem for those who work within the public sector. Absenteeism is a strong indicator that staff are unhappy and unwell in some way. The research shows most workplace absences are now related to mental health – stress, anxiety and depression being the top reasons.

3. Staff turnover – this figure is a really strong indicator that there is a problem in an organisation. Research shows that staff turnover is strongly linked to mental health and wellbeing issues. When staff are unhappy their mental health will be impacted and they are more likely to leave and go elsewhere. Company complacency is rife however! Despite the impact of a high turnover – loss of skills and experience and costs in recruitment and re-training many companies just accept that high staff turnover is normal for their sector. Call centres are one such example – the high employee turnover is accepted as normal and so companies cannot be bothered doing anything about this. Yet from this turnover could be reduced and savings made to the £8 billion a year this costs businesses! On a more local level recent reports say that the cost of replacing an individual employee is £30,000 because of loss of productivity in the period of time it takes to get up to speed (about 6 months). The more highly skilled employees are the higher the cost and the greater the loss to the company. And of course when one employee leaves many others will follow.

4. Long hours culture – (otherwise known as presenteeism) employees work in an environment where very long hours are expected. These hours will affect wellbeing in some way – physically, mentally or behaviourally – it is inevitable. However because of the workplace culture, the management expectations, or employment conditions working more reasonable hours or taking time off work is not an option. These employees will be significantly less productive despite the long hours they work but because they are at their desks or answering their emails no one may notice – or care! This problem is now the biggest threat to UK workplace productivity costing a massive £26bn! Again money that is poured down the drain. And an amount that is more than the budget for social care in England!

5. Existing long-term physical problems – those who live with 1 long-term health condition that impact their lives are 2 or 3 times more likely to develop mental ill-health. People with 2 or more long-term conditions are 7 times more likely to experience depression than those without a long-term condition. So if you know who in your team has a long-term health condition then it is likely they will be struggling with both the condition and their mental health.

6. Staff engagement – there is a strong link between poor staff engagement and wellbeing. A disengaged workforce will be under performing. Within the NHS the one single factor that predicts patient outcomes is staff engagement. A tool like Motivational Maps can be used to measure, raise staff engagement and improve staff wellbeing.

7. Millennials – any workplace that is full of these young adults born from the 1980’s onward needs to know that this group is at risk for mental health issues. Why? Because high numbers of younger employees are coming into the workplace already experiencing a mental health condition – with a massive 37% of those aged 18-29 already having been formally diagnosed by the age of 24! This figure is likely to rise even more in the future given the epidemic of mental health conditions we are now seeing in younger children! There is little point asking them directly or expecting them to come forward as the research shows that millennials are particularly fearful of repercussions from disclosing mental health issues. But based on the evidence you can safely assume it’s an issue – and one as a leader you need to get on and do something about!

How The Sweet Potato Consultancy can help

The Sweet Potato Consultancy works with forward thinking leaders to stop the human and financial waste and attrition found in many workplaces; creating energised, productive and motivated teams. To find out more about how we can help you click here or get in touch.

Photo – Secrets by Ramdlon

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