Employees struggle to raise mental health issues with employers

A new survey of 8000 UK adults has highlighted that two-thirds of respondents (66%) would not feel comfortable raising a mental or emotional wellbeing issue with their employer, and one third are offered no physical or emotional wellbeing support whilst at work.

This is especially concerning given that Nuffield Health’s 2022, ‘Healthier Nation Index’, also revealed that 1 in 3 people say their mental health has gotten worse in the last year. This highlights both a need and an opportunity to provide people with the right mental and emotional wellbeing support in UK workplaces.

Gosia Bowling, National Lead for Emotional Wellbeing at Nuffield Health said, “it’s worrying to see the majority of UK employees are being left to manage mental or emotional wellbeing issues on their own in the workplace. The pandemic has affected the mental health of many employees, so it’s more important than ever that employers find ways to create inclusive and connected workplace environments where people feel supported. Not only will this help productivity, but it will also boost happiness levels. 

“As we also transition to more hybrid and remote working patterns, it is critical that employers also find ways to keep their employees feeling connected, which will help combat feelings of loneliness.”

Gosia offers advice on how employers can play their part in creating a connected and inclusive workplace:

Notice the signs of loneliness

The emotional toll of loneliness can be seen in various ways, including a decline in appearance and hygiene, reduced social interaction in the office or even in the individual’s work performance and output. In remote workers, this may manifest in video meetings or calls. Are they less chatty? Is their voice lower or cracking?

Alternatively, does the individual seem to be craving conversation and contact, or being overly talkative?

‘Find 5 with 5’

Last week, Nuffield Health launched the ‘Find Time For Your Mind’ campaign, calling for people to #find5 and spend just five extra minutes a day exercising and focusing on their mental wellbeing. This additional time would boost the 40-minutes average in the survey to the NHS guideline of 75 minutes a week, putting people on a pathway to mental and physical wellbeing.

Communication is key

Leaders should aim to spend at least five minutes with employees each week, practising ‘active listening’ – a skill that requires a genuine understanding and retention of what’s being said and providing a considered response.

Employers may also consider offering Emotional Literacy Training to staff – equipping them with the skills needed to recognise signs of distress in others and themselves and the confidence to approach them. This way they can nurture a workforce capable of recognising and tackling loneliness.

Targeting with formal support

While meaningful social interaction plays a key role in reducing loneliness, formal wellbeing support can also be invaluable. This may include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) that offer direct and confidential access to a mental health expert.

Get fit

It’s important to remember that mental and physical health are intrinsically linked. The chemicals our bodies release when we’re stressed, anxious and depressed can impact our physical health, causing nausea, upset stomach and headaches. And injury, illness and disabilities can similarly impact our mood and outlook.

No ‘one size fits all’

Employers should be flexible with letting staff choose five minutes of self-care each day, whether it’s simply stretching at their desk, going for a brisk five-minute walk between meetings or finding five minutes to do a short, guided meditation or breathing exercises.

Similarly, flexibility may mean allowing employees to stagger start and finish times or take longer lunches and catch up on work later in the day. This can see employees meeting friends for coffee or spending more time with family.

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