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The Top 10 fall outs companies face from not addressing mental wellbeing in the workplace

21/10/2021

Mental wellbeing was already a topic steadily climbing up organisation’s agendas long before the crazy circumstances of the last 2 years. However, a global pandemic, multiple national lockdowns, furlough schemes and the shift to remote working, has only accelerated the importance of addressing mental wellbeing within organisations.

Staff need to feel the support of their employers more than ever, irrespective of where they are physically working from.  There is an expectation that the unlocking of restrictions will likely accentuate mental health issues, as individuals face up to anxieties caused by the prospect of a return to “normality”. This article takes a look at why employees mental wellbeing is intrinsically linked to organisational wellbeing, and the potential fall-out if not taken seriously enough.

 

Value your people

You will have probably heard the phrase “a company is only as good as its people”, which is completely true.  Without a team “on board” travelling in the same direction as the leader, a business will never truly achieve its full potential.  The leader is key. Unless the leader(s) of the organisation take mental wellbeing seriously, you can never really create an open and safe culture to encourage staff to be open about discussing their mental wellbeing and addressing potential issues.

There is another saying that a “fish rots from the head down”.  Well the flipside of this is that everything that positively influences the business needs to come from the top as well. By showing your team that mental wellbeing is very definitely a priority in the business, you are demonstrating how much you value your people.

However, the alarming statistics with regards to mental wellbeing in the workplace further demonstrates the potential economic impact on a business, without having some form of mechanism or strategy place.

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#1 PRODUCTIVITY

As we said earlier, the people (or staff) of a business are its most important asset.  You could argue that the brand is just as, if not more important. However even a strong brand can be undermined by its people.   

A well-motivated and effective smaller team will always outperform a larger dysfunctional team.  Consider how effectively your business could really operate without quality people in key positions.  Now consider how important those individuals’ health, attitudes, behaviours and actions are to the ongoing success of the business.  In order for a business to thrive, its people need to be happy in their role, their lives and working at the top of their game.

Now consider the impact that an unhappy, unmotivated, stressed out or anxious employee can have, and its potential chain reaction throughout a business.  Mental health issues are not always caused through issues at work, but people cannot just flick a switch and compartmentalise their lives.  If something is affecting mental wellbeing in their personal life, they are going to be bringing it to the workplace as well. This can become a vicious circle. A well-oiled business is a seamless operation – like a series of dominoes lined up. Once one is pushed, the whole process follows in a natural chain reaction of momentum.  If, however, something disrupts that line of dominoes (a blockage or the removal of one domino), then the process stops and the momentum is lost.  This inevitably causes inefficiencies in the business.

Unless you have a plan to identify and deal with potential mental health issues quickly, you may be unable to stop the natural bottlenecks that are likely to impact productivity.  It is estimated that a staggering £15.1bn is lost per annum through reduced productivity, due to mental health, within UK places of work.  That is nearly twice as much as directly attributable to the cost of sickness absence.

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#2 ABSENTEEISM

Which brings us naturally onto absenteeism – with mental health related absenteeism forecasted to contribute 12.7% of all sickness absence days in the UK.  This equates to a staggering cost of £8.4bn minimum to UK businesses, with some reports claiming that figure is as high as 47% and £14bn.   When you combine this with the fact that currently 1 million people in the UK are claiming long-term incapacity benefits due to mental health problems (with a further 500K claiming shorter-term benefits), and that 78% of the global workforce say that the pandemic has negatively affected their mental health, then we are only expecting to see these figures rise.

In 2020 we have already seen a jump in the average number of days off per employee for mental health issues, increasing from 2.9 days in 2019 to 3.19 days in 2020.

Absenteeism obviously brings with it obvious costs, so if businesses can address those absences that are related to mental wellbeing problems it can make a huge financial difference to an organisation – both in terms of direct absenteeism costs and the knock-on effect to productivity.

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#3 PRESENTEEISM

Presenteeism sounds a little odd, but it defines people who continue to work when they are unwell.  Although, on the face of it, you may think that this practice benefits organisations, as staff are still turning up for work, it doesn’t.  If they have a mental health issue and are not at the top of their game….

  1. They are not going to be performing as effectively (productivity drops)
  2. They are going to make their condition worse – spiralling into a more serious issue which will have a far greater impact on the business in the long term.
  3. Mental health issues can evolve into physical health issues or addictions
  4. It could have a knock-on effect to other staff

Because many organisations do not have anything in place to identify and eradicate these unhealthy working practices, presenteeism is a real potential problem which could be growing within your organisation undetected.

Part of the underlying issue as to why presenteeism is growing is because people are not opening up about their mental health issues, for fear of it being seen as some form of weakness.  A recent Mental Health at Work Report 2020 stated that only 13% of staff felt able to disclose a mental health issue to their workplace, whilst 30% of employees have told nobody at all about their mental health concerns.  These are worrying statistics.

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#4 LEAVISM

Another odd word, leavism, is where people are working outside contracted hours or even using annual leave to work when they are unwell.  The ramifications of this are very similar to those mentioned in presenteeism.

Leavism is undoubtedly fuelled by unrealistic expectations placed on staff with regards to the achievable workload within their contracted hours – which naturally leads to stress and anxiety.  Employees are feeling that if they want to keep their job, now more than ever, they need to work extra-hard.  To put this into context, statistics from The People Space show that:

  • 51% of the UK workforce take work home in the evening
  • 29% work on the weekends
  • 84% work through their lunch hour
  • 33% work in excess of 50 hours per week.

Now some of these figures will be skewed by people who choose to do the above because they are highly motivated and they love their work, and some people will have got into a habitual routine, for example, of always skipping lunch.  However, a significant proportion will be those who feel they simply have to, due to the unrealistic demands being placed upon them or the overall accepted “culture” of the business.

But surely, with more people working from home, this reality has lessened? Well, actually, no. A recent article published in the Guardian with data from the ONS highlighted that the reality is that people working from home spend more time at their jobs.  This is probably due to the fact that there is no clear distinction between work life and home life, with many also using the time that they spent commuting to work, actually carrying out their work.

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#5 STAFF TURNOVER

Ultimately the wellbeing of staff, both mentally, physically and the self-fulfilment in their role, has a direct impact on the turnover of staff within the business.

Two of the most common mental health issues within the workplace are stress and anxiety.  Ultimately, we are all built in different ways with regards to stress resilience.  Some people can actually seem to perform better when they are placed under degrees of stress, whilst others struggle to function at all.  However, we all have a bandwidth that we can “deal with” for a limited amount of time.  Once we expand beyond that bandwidth or time period, we stop functioning effectively and ultimately look to change something (i.e. our role, our employer, our career, or another factor in our life).

So what causes stress within most workplaces?  Well, the underlying causes of stress, and subsequent anxiety, are quite surprising.   A recent report from Perkbox highlighted the following main contributors to workplace stress:

  1. Work related office politics (37%)
  2. Lack of interdepartmental communications (34%)
  3. The work performance of others (33%)
  4. My own work performance (31%)
  5. Client satisfaction levels (26%)
  6. Tensions with senior members of staff/managers (26%)
  7. Long working hours (25%)
  8. Poor company culture (18%)
  9. The company performance (18%)
  10. Other (15%)

So if the mental wellbeing of staff directly relates to your level of staff turnover, then it is going to directly impact on your bottom line.  Irrespective of how you recruit staff, whether you use an external recruitment agency or carry it out in-house, the actual cost of physical recruitment is significant. When you add on the additional costs of management time, training, development, the loss of productivity whilst they get fully up to speed, and benefits packages, high levels of staff turnover could be significantly impacting the financial performance of the business.

#6 PROFITABILITY

Undoubtedly every single one of these “fall-outs” has financial implications to a business, which is going to directly impact the bottom line of the business.

Businesses don’t always join the dots between the mental wellbeing of their workforce and the financial performance of their business.  In fact, many of the practices which may affect the wellbeing of staff are usually occurring to drive through added profitability (for example why businesses are understaffed and employees overworked).  However, they often fail to spot it is actually a completely false economy, in that what may save them a few pennies in the short-term, is going to cost them pounds in the medium to long-term.

A happy and positive workforce is going to help create a winning culture within the business, with high levels of productivity, high levels of staff retention and a much stronger brand experience for anyone who engages with your business.  All of these elements will undoubtedly have a positive impact on profitability.

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#7 REPUTATIONAL

If you need any convincing of how looking after the mental wellbeing of staff can have reputational benefits, then you only have to look at once recent example that swung the other way.  Of course, we are talking about the PR disaster that was Brew Dog

2020 was already a tough year for the craft-beer firm but when 300 ex-employees published an open letter, things got a whole lot worse.  The letter was posted online, claiming they were bullied and treated like objects within a “toxic culture” which damaged their mental health.  Once it was posted, more and more Brew Dog employees signed it to say they had experienced the same thing.

Not only will the negative publicity have had an impact on how the wider world views the Brew Dog brand, it also suddenly becomes an organisation with a perceived higher risk for potential investors (thus driving its value down).  What’s more is that it will find it much more difficult to recruit the best talent moving forward.

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#8 BREAKDOWN IN COMMUNICATIONS

There is well known saying that “the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts”, and this is very true within organisations.  There are always key lynchpins in organisations, but unless teams and departments work well together, they will never be operating at maximum efficiency.

When we considered earlier in the article the impact on staff turnover, it was cited that the number two cause of stress in the workplace is a lack of interdepartmental communications.  Now this in itself can cause a chain reaction because mental wellbeing could be the initial cause for the poor communications, which then causes more stress elsewhere within the organisation, which can be passed on throughout the business.

A lot of emphasis in national mental health awareness campaigns has been around communication, and how talking about the problems and issues that you have, can have a massive positive impact on overcoming whatever is causing stress, anxiety or internal concern.  However, as we mentioned earlier, a third of people never speak to anyone about their mental health concerns, let alone a work colleague.  By engaging openly and honestly about mental wellbeing with all staff, it opens up the gates for individuals to talk about what they are going through and makes it easier for other colleagues to support them.  The current widespread radio silence is particularly prevalent in men, with 35% keeping any mental health problems to themselves.

On the other side of the coin, line managers also need to be trained in how to deal with those circumstances and situations which could impact on the mental wellbeing of their team.  Currently 76% of line managers believe they are responsible for employee wellbeing (which is already too low), but only 22% have received any training in this area.  Communication is a two-way process so organisations have to look at both sides of this fence.

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#9 CULTURE

The Brew Dog example that was referenced earlier shows how a disregard for mental wellbeing, and failing to be just a supportive employer, can have a detrimental effect on the culture of an organisation – with previous staff describing it as “toxic”. 

On the flip side, by placing staff mental wellbeing high on the organisational agenda, you are taking huge strides in creating a strong culture of growth within the company.  We have all seen the annual league tables of the best companies to work for (well done to Hilton for being named #1  in the latest table for 1000+ employees), and a strong culture filters through to brand reputation, staff retention, customer satisfaction, recruitment and sales growth.

By not addressing mental wellbeing in your organisation you run the risk of potentially unravelling any positive culture you have built.  Culture is not just something you can turn on.  It is something which takes a considerable time to build, and is developed from the top downwards.  Staff will often mirror back and reflect on the behaviours and attitudes that they see coming from those above them.  However, although a strong culture takes time to build, it doesn’t take very long to destroy it.  Why do you think so many company acquisitions go wrong and end in disaster?

Consider your absenteeism, presenteeism, leavism, staff turnover, interdepartmental communications, team effectiveness and it will give you a good indication of the culture you have fostered.  Don’t let poor mental wellbeing of your staff start to unpick all of the good work you have already done.  It is an opportunity to further enhance your culture and build a stronger business.

#10 CONTINOUS DOWNWARD CYCLE

The problem with mental wellbeing, is that unless an issue has been identified early, it can escalate.  What starts as a small internal niggle in someone’s brain can grow in importance to them, particularly when niggled regularly. After a while, this niggle has become a much larger issue, to a point where it is now causing someone internal stress (whether they are outwardly showing it or not).  There will come a point where it starts affecting performance, at which point it is likely that stress has escalated towards anxiety and is starting to dramatically affect a person’s attitudes, behaviours and actions.

Remember 79% of British adults in employment commonly experience work-related stress (this has jumped 20% since 2018).  Only 1% say that they never experience workplace stress.  Out of these 79%, 55% of these then go on to experience anxiety as a result.

Anxiety, in turn, can have a significant effect on numerous physical and mental impacts on the body.  Examples of this show that nearly half of those dealing with anxiety are also experiencing a loss of sleep, whilst a third turning to comfort eating.  This can ultimately cause deeper health-related issues.

What’s more the personal impact on the individual, accelerates the issues.  As well as poor physical health, those suffering with mental health issues are likely to experience reduced happiness at home (33% of cases), suffering family relationships (30%) and isolation from friends (28%).  All of these things can contribute to a downward spiral.

If you compare your organisation to an individual’s internal experience for a second, a similar pattern can play out.  If you have staff with mental wellbeing issues, it will affect performance, which could impact on internal communications, which in turn affects productivity, leads to staff retention issues – which can cause additional issues for those picking up the slack.  Ultimately the company culture will be affected, which then affects brand reputation, which can lead to poor company performance, which can cause more stress within the organisation. 

Just like with the domino analogy used earlier, something needs to happen to break that cycle!

Final Thoughts

This article may seem to be painting a bleak picture, but the mental wellbeing of staff is something all organisations have the ability to place at the top of their agenda. What’s more is that 76% of workers believe that their company should be doing more to protect the mental health of their workforce.

It may be something you decide to park and review later, but remember, 25% of your workforce right now will be dealing with some form of mental health issue.  If you run a business of 500 employees – that is 125 individuals who need supporting.  If you fail to support them, as we can see from the points outlined above, the end result could be damaging long-term to your organisation.