The landscape of mental health awareness in the workplace

The UK’s mental health has reached crisis point and is now estimated to be costing the UK economy £57.4 billion each year. For businesses, a workforce that is struggling with poor mental wellbeing means more time lost to sick days, poor productivity, low morale, and high staff turnover – detriments that most cannot afford. With the situation reaching fever pitch, there has never been a greater need for mental health awareness in the workplace.

Employees have become fiercely protective of their health, particularly since the pandemic, with Michael Page’s 2024 Talent Trends report revealing that nearly two-thirds (64%) are prepared to refuse a promotion to maintain their overall wellbeing. With more workers prepared to put their health first, employers need to explore ways to adapt to changing attitudes and expectations.

That's why it’s important to foster a culture where everyone feels heard, respected, and valued. When people feel good, they’re at their most creative and effective. Employers can help their teams feel supported by:

  • Identifying issues with workplace culture.
  • Promoting open conversations and building stronger relationships.
  • Improving mental health awareness, understanding causes of stress in the workplace and spotting signs of distress.

What practices can promote better mental health at work?

Our recent Talent Trends report revealed the need for people-first, flexible workplaces that preserve work-life balance. Employees are clamouring for greater control and autonomy over their work schedules so they can manage their own work-life balance, which can help to reduce burnout and increase morale. 

While businesses must find a route forward that works for them, the rise of flexible and hybrid working during the pandemic has changed employees’ expectations irrevocably. From most employees having only limited expectations of flexible working five years ago, three quarters (76%) of workers now value hybrid or flexible arrangements, while 71% prioritise flexible working hours.

This flexibility offers employees a better work-life balance and ability to manage their mental wellbeing, making it easier to juggle family life and childcare, attend doctors’ appointments, exercise, or take up hobbies. Despite this, our Talent Trends survey reveals:

  • Around a third (32%) of employees are spending more time in the office compared to a year ago;
  • 58% of those only doing so due to company policy;
  • 59% of those are actively looking for a new role.

Our research demonstrates that organisations that ignore the shift in attitude towards flexibility, forcing people back into the office, could have this backfire when it comes to retention and staff morale. Government employees are threatening strike action over a forced return to the office, even two days a week, indicating the extent of the desire for flexible working, while three in five (59%) of those who are working more in the office than a year ago are actively seeking new roles.

Mindful leadership and empathy are critical for success

Often employees feel like they must choose between their mental health and developing their careers, but it does not have to be that way. Leaders should be mindful of the triggers, barriers, and issues within their organisation that could impact their employees’ mental health, and work to address them wherever possible, with a view to improving satisfaction, retention and productivity.

Understanding the nuances of flexibility is crucial. It is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ concept, with needs varying by individual and organisation. Improving mental health awareness in the workplace, particularly among management and leadership teams, can open conversations with individual workers to find out what type of flexibility will be most valuable for them. While some may benefit from flexible hours, others will be content with having the freedom to choose office and remote workdays.

Building an open company culture hinges on empathy. Embracing individuality, employing active listening and acting on issues it unearths, understanding the context of why an employee might benefit from flexibility, and engaging and communicating with the workforce can go a lot further than token offerings of a free breakfast or office yoga when it comes to improving mental health at work. What’s more, if the feedback you’re receiving is around workload or resource, why not explore temporary or contract placement solutions?

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