Dr Sarah-Jane Fenton: What can employers do to address social wellbeing?

Sarah-Jane Fenton

While making their new year’s resolutions for 2019, employers may be deciding to scale up their model, or be making plans to remain agile in difficult markets. However, on that list of objectives, and not as an afterthought, needs to be a serious consideration about how to support employees’ mental health and social wellbeing.

Over and above moral arguments about creating healthy work environments, we are increasingly aware of the individual psychological hazards of poor work environments and of the strategic importance and benefits of a healthy workplace. Deloitte’s Mental health and wellbeing in employment report and Business in the Community’s Mental health at work report, both published in October 2017, show that mental health issues in the workforce cost UK employers up to £42 billion a year, and that three out of every five employees experience mental health issues because of work.

Being cognisant of the issue is only the start. Business in the Community’s survey showed that, despite mental health issues being quite common in workplaces, just 13% of employees surveyed felt able to disclose a mental health issue to their line manager.

The prevalence of mental ill-health in the workplace means that being responsive and responsible is necessary across all sectors, irrespective of the size of the organisation.

Whether an employer thinks it has this sorted, or is just starting to think about it, there are some key questions to ask.

Is the organisation promoting a positive workplace culture? Examples of this could include tackling bullying, discrimination and harassment effectively, or ensuring that training and development opportunities are offered equally to all staff.

Are both employer and employees aware of their rights and responsibilities in relation to workplace wellbeing? Has the organisation engaged with the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice) guidelines about workplace health and management practices, or the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) guidance on work-related stress? Has the employer made use of free tools, such as Business in the Community’s mental health toolkit?

Has the organisation considered the impact of short, fixed-term, or zero-hours contracts, or working away from home for prolonged periods, on employees’ long-term wellbeing, and balanced this with business interests?

There are many ways to approach enhancing organisational culture and to create a more productive and constructive environment for staff. So, when settling business plans for the year, employers should ensure they consider how to make mental health and social wellbeing in the workplace a strategic priority for 2019.

Dr Sarah-Jane Fenton (pictured) is a lecturer in mental health policy at the Institute for Mental Health; Professor Fiona Carmichael is chair in labour economics at Birmingham Business School

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