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By Phil Sproston, Region Manager, UK & Ireland, Top Employers Institute
By Phil Sproston, Region Manager, UK & Ireland, Top Employers Institute

The Case for Workplace Mental Health Grows Stronger

Enlightened employers have found that prioritising mental health is not just the right thing to do. It makes good business sense as well.

World Mental Health Day on October 10th gives businesses a chance to reflect on 18 very challenging months in the workplace. According to the Institute of Labour Economics, the first wave of Covid-19 in the UK had an immediate impact on mental health, with psychological distress at work increasing to 28% in April 2020, from 18% in 2019. And by January 2021, the Health Foundation estimated that 1 in 4 (27%) of those in employment in the UK were suffering poor mental health, rising to over a third (34%) for those on furlough.

The mental health concerns that the pandemic has generated have been complex, so it’s great to see certified UK Top Employers prioritising the well-being of their employees during this time by implementing well thought-through strategies and actions.

Many initiatives from Top Employers in the UK have cost little in the way of budget to implement – and may even have saved money. Some are more about prevention than cure: Mindfulness and meditation programmes, are now offered by 87% of UK Top Employers, 55% are keen to discourage overtime and 48% frown on the use of email outside of office hours. And when mental health is affected, there are initiatives in place for the management of stress (offered by 96%) and coping with information overload (38%).

Among the many good examples of policy in practice from certified UK Top Employers is Tata Consultancy Services. Their well-being strategy has four pillars, including mental and emotional health, through a dedicated initiative called TCS Cares. It also has an employee network promoting the mental health of employees, called TCS Minds, and trains managers and employees in stress management, remote working skills, and mental health awareness. Molson Coors, meanwhile, who recently received the Gold award in Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing Awards for its commitment to workplace wellbeing, has been focussing on the importance of normalising discussions around mental health in the workplace, which has created a lot of new interest within the business, as well as undertaking well-being challenges to raise awareness.

What has been far less obvious, until now, has been how prioritising mental health and wellbeing in the workplace has positively impacted commercial performance, and particularly customer satisfaction. A striking feature of our research, among nearly 100 certified UK Top Employer organisations in the middle of the pandemic, was a remarkable increase in customer satisfaction levels. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of our UK Top Employers reported increases in customer satisfaction while only 1% reported a decrease. How did they achieve this in the face of uncertainty? The answer, the data shows, is an unparalleled alignment of HR with customer-focused business goals, with a positive step change in concern for employee health at its heart. Other research, from Deloitte, backs up the case for investment in mental health, finding an average return of £5 for every £1 spent on such initiatives – and it may be that the pandemic has acted as a catalyst for the business potential of positive mental health being fully realised.

All UK employers really need to pause for thought on #WorldMentalHealthDay. There are still so many that haven’t recognised, let alone prioritised or acted on mental health challenges. Hopefully, greater awareness around the potential business impact of positive mental health will provide a powerful acceleration for change.

The Top Employers Institute is the global authority on recognising excellence in people practices. As part of our Top Employers Certification Programme, we examine the HR policies, priorities, and practices of nearly 1700 leading employers around the world.