In recent times, mental health has become one of the hottest topics in the UK. Numerous charities including Heads Together and Time to Change are trying to end the stigma of mental health and campaign for increased well-being support. Such high profile campaigns are being endorsed by the likes of celebrities and royalty who want to their share their own personal experiences.
Mental health is also a topic very close to my heart. I have personal experience of friends and family going through tough times, struggling to find someone to listen and help. Concerns that have not only affected their personal lives but have also transferred into their places of work.
Staggering statistics in 2017/8 show that mental health problems accounted for 15.4 million sick leave days in the UK. In the past, companies have focused on employee physical well-being but never considered the importance of emotional health. This is slowly beginning to change.
New programs are moving away from offering just traditional face-to-face or telephone counseling. While human interaction should always remain an option, companies recognize that individuals have busy work and personal lives. Employees struggle to have time away from the office, which often results in missed or canceled appointments. In other cases, individuals won’t book appointments for fear that making their concerns public will result in discrimination.
Companies are now listening and adapting to these demands by looking at technologies to help provide a solution. I mention some approaches below, a number of which I have experience with.
The question is: who hasn’t got one? Whether it is a Fitbit or Apple smart watch, there is a health wearable for everyone. This year, it is estimated that there will be 722 million connected wearable devices worldwide. My first wearable was a pedometer given by a previous company to all office staff. This complimentary wearable had the objective of encouraging us away from our desks more often.
Initially, I scared myself when I discovered I only did 250 steps a day around the office! This fact spurred me into instant action. Walking became a lunch-time ritual, come rain or shine, to go outside and take a break. I found myself energized on my return, ready for work and feeling a little more fit. The program also created a healthy competition between office teams determined to be the highest steppers. As a result this initiative was a great success.
If you saw my last blog, you already know I’m a big advocate of working at home. I utilize all the remote tools available to me including audio conferencing, WebEx and Skype. So I can work as effectively on my boat as when I am in the office. Remote working is a great flexible solution for people who need to balance work and home life circumstances and should be encouraged by employers.
My current employer, Orange Business Services, offers a comprehensive online solution to support physical and emotional well-being. I can access many resources, including webinars and tips on various topics like health, finances, work, education and lifestyle.
Personally, I find it easier to access my company’s platform via a mobile app. I find apps are easier to dip in to and out of during a busy day. In addition to my work app, there are endless other well-being options available on Android or Apple devices. Popular apps I have used include Headspace and Worry Watch, which are designed to fit in with my day, even if I only have fifteen minutes to spare.
As I said earlier, employees struggle to find time to make personal appointments during the working week. Insurance companies, including Aviva, are now offering corporate businesses online medical consultations via videoconference. This removes the issue of taking time traveling to appointments. For others, it can also relieve the huge anxiety of meeting advisers in person to discuss their concerns.
Staff benefit tools
Employers also offer a great range of staff benefits that promote health and well-being. Via an online tool, there are many different benefits to choose from, including gym membership discounts, cycle-to-work schemes, outdoor activities and restaurants. Personally, I always opt to buy additional holiday to extend my annual leave by another week and travel long haul!
Unilever has a recognized well-being program that also heavily invests in analytics to track its results. From 2008-2017, the company cut absenteeism by 15% and reduced healthcare costs by 20% – very positive results for both Unilever and its employees.
While these technologies are moving in the right direction, I believe there is still a long journey ahead to tackle mental health in the workplace. Employers must take mental health seriously, recognizing the impact on their companies’ performance, but also the well-being of their staff.
Initiatives and awareness must be endorsed and led by the senior leadership team and cascaded throughout the organization. Line managers need to be thoroughly trained to feel comfortable talking to their staff about emotional health. And most important of all is the creation of a safe environment for employees to feel they can speak, be listened to and supported.
I am European PR and Social Media Manager and also UK&I Marketing Manager supporting my local account team. In my spare time I love to travel and live on a replica Dutch barge on The River Thames.