Mental health and wellbeing – a business asset

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Over the last decade, concerns about worker overload have evolved into complex, broad conversations about personal wellbeing, with increasing focus given to what employers should do to support it. Fortunately, in many cases, this meant that when the COVID-19 pandemic reached UK shores in March last year, many employers already had the health and wellbeing of their staff on their radar. However, the goalposts had moved, and there were new challenges on the horizon.

Suddenly, conversations about work-life balance and flexible working arrangements encompassed all office-based workers – not only those with the ‘traditional grounds’ for making a request. As swathes of the UK workforce commenced the great ‘home-working experiment’, another challenge arose for managers: How to ensure employees’ wellbeing and good mental health without in-person contact? Body language and tone of voice tell us more about how a person is feeling than their words. So, without seeing them in person, how sure can you be that they are being Employers across the nation have found that striking a balance between remote and office-based working has been key. This has been made possible by empowering people with choices about when to attend the office, using hot-desking arrangements and a desk-booking system to monitor numbers of people in the building at any one time.

While there is a lot employers can do to support good mental health, it remains true that the first line of defense sits with the individual and having the self-knowledge to recognize when the pressures of life are getting to be too much. One of the most powerful tools employers can provide employees is access to an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). These services offer professional counselling round the clock, and many offer other benefits and services too. One of the main benefits of this approach is that employees don’t have to advertise the fact that they’re struggling – support can be gained without having to tell colleagues or loved ones.

Such focus on wellbeing should be central to any business’ talent attraction and retention plans. These days, high remuneration (while still key) is not the only thing candidates look at: a company’s ESG credentials are becoming an increasingly important factor. Adopting stronger social policies and governance, which improve employee welfare and demonstrate positive action towards protecting communities and the environment, should be central to your workforce strategy.

They also need to be reviewed regularly, as new environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) laws and practices are introduced – for example, whether employees have a “right to disconnect”. Equality, diversity and inclusion is of course a key consideration for businesses and other organisations, and we’re seeing more and more companies volunteering to report their ethnicity and socio-economic pay gap, in addition to statutory obligations of gender pay gap reporting.

Protecting people and planet isn’t just the employer’s responsibility though. Employees, especially in senior positions, have a role to play, too. Getting your employees engaged in these issues and measuring and rewarding social and environmental performance as well as financial performance, will only continue to grow in importance.  ESG metrics are increasingly used in executive appraisals, bonus assessment, and procurement scoring – and almost half of the FTSE 100 companies now have an ESG measure in executive pay.