Several weeks back, I was invited to attend the Good Day at Work Conversation 2017 (GDAW17). This is an annual event, organised by workplace wellbeing specialists Robertson Cooper. This year’s theme was the future of wellbeing, particularly in the context of the very many changes that are either already impacting or will soon be impacting the world of work.
A key topic covered during the day was mental health and the effect this has on workplace performance and engagement. The various conversations threw out some pretty stark statistics about mental health, which I think are noteworthy of sharing.
According to mental health campaigners Time to Change, one in four people will experience a mental health problem in any given year – that’s 25%, and when we take into consideration that mental health issues cover areas as diverse as stress, addiction, eating disorders, OCD, depression, phobias and anxiety, that figure doesn’t feel entirely surprising.
The other figure that really hit home is the extent to which children and young adults are experiencing mental health issues. One panel discussion that took place during GDAW17 revealed that one in 10 children and teenagers between the ages of 5 and 16 will experience a diagnosable mental health disorder, increasingly without access to any formal support. This is the UK’s future workforce we are talking about and these figures are, quite simply, heart-breaking.
There are so many reasons in today’s society why people might feel stressed, anxious or unable to cope, both at home and in the workplace. It seems that we have never felt more pressured to succeed both in our work and careers and in our personal lives. Failure, in any aspect of our lives, seems almost like the most cardinal sin, and we increasingly live in fear of not performing, not delivering and not achieving what we feel we ought to.
Our working environments are not helping with this pressure, either. Many of the changes that are predicted to disrupt the world of work are driven by cost efficiencies and a move towards operational streamlining wherever and whenever possible. This does little to reassure workers that their jobs are safe or secure. New methods and patterns of working will inevitably require new skills and new layers of emotional resilience.
This reinforces the view that workplace wellbeing has never been more important. In the UK economy, as in many other Western economies, the facts and figures around mental health speak for themselves. Business leaders need to wake up to their responsibilities as employers; recognising that they have as much responsibility for workplace mental health as they do workplace physical health. Taking these steps will have a clear advantage commercially – it goes without saying that a positive correlation exists between feeling cared for, valued and respected in the workplace and employee productivity.
Providing a working environment with a focus on employee wellbeing will also increasingly provide competitive edge in the race to attract and retain key talent. Evidence is emerging that workers are increasingly seeking out employers that can demonstrate clearly defined values that emphasise the importance of people and planet alongside profits.
The great news is that adopting a workplace wellbeing strategy doesn’t have to be expensive. A recurrent theme at GDAW17 was the importance of conversation, of feeling safe and secure enough to talk freely, and of feeling listened to. These are innate soft skills that should come naturally to us, but which sometimes fall by the wayside in our hurried and pressurised lives. Simply fostering a working environment of openness, equality and inclusion can be transformative – and in the wake of now inevitable economic and social disruption, creating and maintaining such environments will have significant impact on productivity and commercial success alike.
Cat’s recruitment career has furnished her with fascinating insights into how people behave in the workplace, particularly in response to change. She has a deep interest in human behaviour, organisational psychology and helping business leaders create sustainable, ethical and values-based working environments.