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Rethinking workplace wellbeing in times of uncertainty

Every year an estimated 17 million work days are lost to stress, anxiety and depression. Clarklegal’s Monica Atwal highlights ways in which employers can raise their game to help.

We are facing challenging, uncertain times and the fast pace of change is impacting the ways we work. So how do organisations and individuals ensure they see the opportunity and have the resilience to succeed in this environment?

Work and wellbeing are symbiotic. Work provides people with satisfaction, value, stretch, autonomy, discretion, engagement and community. Along with the elusive and individual elements of “work life balance” and personal responsibility for health, these factors support wellbeing. And for an employer that results in productivity, drive, creativity and innovation from workers.

However, every year an estimated 17 million work days are lost to stress, anxiety and depression, according to the Mental Health Foundation. The World Health Organisation has named stress the “Health Epidemic of the 21st Century”.

For employers, poor mental health is costly in terms of absenteeism, presenteeism, poor performance and staff turnover. And it’s the number one cause for long-term absence (4 weeks or more) across the UK workforce, according to the CIPD Guide to Mental Health.

Looking after staff is nothing new for employers. Small, medium and larger organisations in the UK have practices, policies and initiatives to support staff – and increasingly these include a focus on wellbeing in the workplace. For some small organisations this is informal, treating staff like family. But now, at this pivotal point in UK political history when business are looking at plans, is exactly the time all organisations need to analyse their wellbeing strategies and measures as part of their wider employee engagement.

Organisations need to have a clear and embedded strategy that includes analysing and tackling the cause of workplace stress. Employers may need to accept they fall short of providing what are considered good roles for wellbeing. More than half of the employees in the 18-40 years age category have financial concerns – and those with increased financial concerns were shown to be losing more than twice as much productivity than those without any concerns. They are also more likely to have more medical conditions both physical and mental. The uncertainty of work such as zero hours contracts is likely to increase poor mental health. No role is perfect but employers can mitigate impact.

For employers, poor mental health is costly in terms of absenteeism, presenteeism, poor performance and staff turnover.

Many initiatives include reducing the stigma of mental health; training and support; agile, flexible working; access to effective treatment; and flexible benefits such as community days, exercise classes, additionally days off and sabbaticals. Employers should be analysing their initiatives and seeking feedback from staff to find out what has been mutually beneficial.

Redundancies may be a reality for many organisations, and a wellbeing strategy needs to be open and transparent about change and how employers assist staff transition out of work into other opportunities. Wellbeing strategies for an employer are part of a holistic approach to engaging with staff and allowing them to move to different forms of work with both parties working together in that shared responsibility.

Article first appeared on the CBI website 10/10/2019

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