June 20, 2024

Many companies may be guilty of ‘mental health washing’, where businesses promote the importance of mental health but do not have policies to match this, according to a poll by payroll and finance software provider MHR.

The survey of 1,000 UK adults, which found that eight in 10 (79 per cent) UK employees do not believe their employer when they discuss or promote their wellbeing initiatives, comes after World Mental Health Day yesterday (10 October).

The research also found that a fifth (19 per cent) of FTSE 100 companies posted about mental health on their social channels on relevant awareness days, but then did not reference anything relating to mental health for the rest of the year. 

Sharon Bligh, director of health and sustainability, The Consumer Goods Forum, told People Management: “Healthy, happy employees are the foundation of every responsible business. Thriving workforces mean sustainable, successful businesses.”

Employees have never been in greater need of health and wellbeing support after the pandemic and cost of living crisis caused “multiple stressors”, she said, adding: “We have also entered a new phase for employee wellbeing as remote working has radically shifted employees’ needs and expectations.”

But firms must ensure that their mental wellbeing support tackles root issues and is not “tokenistic”, Bligh said. While initiatives like free yoga, subscriptions to wellbeing apps and impromptu days off are welcome, they should only be welcome extras to a wellbeing policy, rather than a core strategy. Instead, businesses should address “the basics” including workload and working hours, Bligh added.

“In many companies, HR is one of the best communication channels for employees to express their wellbeing concerns,” she said. 

“HR professionals should advocate for a well-rounded framework that provides employees with better access to wellbeing support, creates a work culture that cherishes mental health and carries out regular assessments on wellbeing programmes implemented. However, the true change in a company’s wellbeing culture requires C-suite-level support.

“Taking a preventative approach to mental health and wellbeing, focusing on long-term strategies instead of one-off activities that may not be taken up by employees in future, should be a priority not just for HR but must be decided at the boardroom level.”

Sarah Baldry, VP of people and marketing at employee mental health tech provider Wysa, told People Management: “Workplace wellbeing is never going to work if interventions are not held accountable for impact.

“Companies spend a lot of money on employee wellbeing and regularly risk wasting money on things that are not proven to work and have poor uptake.

“It’s crucial to take the temperature of employees’ mental health before and after investments and share that data at board level so that the true level of risk within the workforce is known.”

Employers needed to view their workforce’s mental health as “entirely relevant” to them, as depression and anxiety have a direct impact on absenteeism, productivity and staff turnover, Baldry said. 

Dr Rodrigo Rodriguez-Fernandez, global health adviser for wellness and mental health at International SOS, said overlooking mental health issues in the workplace has a significant emotional and financial cost that businesses “cannot afford to sideline”.

“The repercussions touch everyone, from individual employees to the organisation as a whole. As individuals might face considerable costs when seeking mental health resources, organisations are uniquely positioned to champion preventive strategies and offer affordable counselling and support to their teams,” he said.

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