Looking after your employees mental wellbeing can add real value to your business

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As a counsellor specialising in workplace counselling, I frequently hear from clients who feel undervalued or unappreciated by their employer. It’s a worrying trend and one that has become worse during the current economic climate. It feels like we’re all trying to do more, with less staff and no pay rise in sight. This means that come Friday, the workforce is exhausted, frustrated and resentful.

Financial remuneration continues to be a prime motivator for workers but given the widely reported pay freezes, redundancies and lack of growth, this is not a realistic solution. In reality, we are living in a time of financial austerity, cost-cutting and budget-freezing.

While this might have been triggered by a global financial and economic crisis, there are signs that even with rosier times peeking through the mist, the precedent has been set. This will become the new way. Greater focus on budget management may not be a bad thing but it is perhaps no coincidence that the cost of presenteeism (attending work while sick) is now reported to be twice that attributed to absence. This suggests a malaise of an under-performing, under-productive workforce. People are worried about losing their jobs, so they come into work in an 'underperforming' state, i.e. suffering stress, anxiety, dealing with a physical injury, coping with personal problems or going through a life crisis issue such as loss or bereavement.

This is a worrying trend given that employees should be viewed and treated as an organisation's greatest asset. They should be supported and encouraged to enable them to flourish and be at their most productive. This is not only best for them but also best for a company's bottom line. So where are employers going wrong and how can we change this?

There is a potential solution and a low-cost, low-risk one at that. It centres on looking after the mental wellbeing of employees and putting supportive processes in place for those who need them. Looking after your staff in this way will enable them to engage more at work, take less time off and perform better.

How do you set this up in practice?

A commitment to wellbeing needs to be established, demonstrated and championed at the top of the organisation. It can be delivered through three broad strands:

Policy: Policies need to demonstrate a 'duty of care' to all staff, to embrace opportunities within employment legislation to offer leverage for staff, to provide, where reasonable, flexible and adaptable working conditions;

Performance: At a management level, staff should have the opportunity to develop and learn through appropriate management inspiration and motivation;

People: Employees should have access to support when situations require it.

For the purposes of this article, the focus here will target 'People'.

As human beings, we grow and develop, learning from life experiences along the way, some positive, some less so. But, on top of the current economic struggle, we're all going to face certain difficult life issues now and again. With one in four people likely to experience a mental health issue in their lives, there needs to be support and understanding for those of us who will. The GP is responsible for our primary care but organisations have a duty of care to employees too. At any given time, there will be employees trying to cope with bereavement, or family issues, stress, depression and anxiety, relationship problems and a host of life issues that can affect anyone.

Without adequate support, these people (you and me) might find themselves distracted at work, more irritable, unable to concentrate as they normally would and thereby edging closer to the unproductive presenteeism precipice.

Creating a cohesive wellbeing strategy allows organisations to put in place a series of early interventions that aim to resolve issues before they become problems.

Whatever option is offered to staff, you'll find this not only provides a release-valve for employees but the positive wellbeing message the initiative communicates will help make all employees feel valued and appreciated.

After all, if employees really are an organisation's greatest asset, surely we need to look after them.

Rick Hughes, lead advisor: Workplace, British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy

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