Millions of workdays are lost each year due to staff absences related to their mental health. Claire Leake, people director at National Care Group, one of the largest providers of care in the UK, explains how her organisation has been practically supporting its staff members with their mental health, intending to reduce staff absences.
The mental health impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has followed particular trends, for many initial declines in mental health during periods of lockdowns subsequently improved, but not for all, as by January 2021, around a quarter of working-age people had gained a new mental health problem.
Multiple studies analysing the long-term determinates of mental health during the pandemic have highlighted the link between mental health and economic insecurity and symptoms related to work pressures amplified by the public health crisis.
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Recognising mental health in the workplace
The Mental Health Foundation estimates the 70 million workdays are lost each year due to mental health problems, costing UK employers approximately £2.4 billion per year. To address this loss in productivity and decline in staff morale, the organisation recommends that employers and managers promote an open, authentic conversation about mental health as a part of everyday working life on an individual and strategic level.
Along those lines, Claire Leake has recommended that employers lead by example and show their colleagues that mental health is a priority, especially as employees begin to return back to workplaces.
Ms Leake commented: “With NHS data showing that the number of days taken off work by the UK public for mental health-related issues surged during 2020’s lockdowns, it has never been more important for employers to take care of their team’s mental health. This is especially relevant in the care sector, where staff have truly been on the front line of the pandemic and dealing with its impacts on a daily basis since early last year.”
"It is absolutely critical that the senior team in any business leads from the top. We aren't immune to mental health issues ourselves, but as leaders, we often feel pressure to battle through them, thinking that is the way to lead by example.”
“In reality, we need to be demonstrating that mental health comes first and that it's OK to take some holiday and have some downtime. By doing that, it pushes through to the team and cascades through the business.”
Ensure that there is proactive mental health support is available
In addition to leading by example, Ms Leake advised that managers support colleagues with their mental health issues by "ensuring proactive support upfront when warning signs occur". This, she said, can be done by breaking down stigmas attached to mental health and by training managers in mental health first aid.
Ms Leake added: “Since May, we have started to see a significant reduction in the number of days of mental health-related absence[s], which we believe is a combination of the number of trained mental health first aiders, as well as the work we have done as a team around Mental Health Awareness Week.”
"Our focus on increasing the number of managers equipped with the knowledge and understanding to support colleagues with mental health-related issues will hopefully lead to a continued reduction in mental health-related absence.”