We need to talk – businesses need to tackle emotional wellbeing

Brendan Street, Professional Head of Emotional Wellbeing at Nuffield Health; Alaana Linney, Director of Business Development

We need to talk – how businesses need to tackle emotional wellbeing

One in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem this year. For many of them, it will affect their performance at work. In fact, it is likely to cost employers between £33billion and £42billion according to the 2017 report Thriving At Work, developed for the Prime Minister by Stevenson and Farmer. This amounts to a cost per employee of between £1,205 and £1,560 per year – a cost for all employees, not just those who are ill.

The one-in-four statistic is useful in terms of indicating how common mental health problems are.  However, Nuffield Health takes the view that all employees have emotional wellbeing needs, in the same way that they have physical health needs.

Employers can take steps to support their staff and cut the costs of mental health problems. Interventions from awareness campaigns, on-site clinics offering psychological interventions, mental health first aiders through to access to a nationwide network of therapists can reduce the burden. In fact, Deloitte calculated the return on investment of interventions as between £1.40 and £9.40 for every £1 invested.

Many employers might not be aware of the true scale of these conditions, though, as many employees will carry on coming into work but will operate less efficiently. So it might not show up as sick leave or even staff turnover, but instead as poor concentration, tearfulness, short temper or changes in personal appearance. This is often referred to as “presenteeism”. Presenteeism alone is estimated to cost employers in the UK between £17billion and £26billion.

We all have emotional wellbeing needs and these needs vary, day to day, week to week, year to year, depending on what is going on in our lives, says Brendan Street, professional head of emotional wellbeing at the corporate wellbeing provider Nuffield Health. Just as people have physical health needs that can change over time, so too do our emotional wellbeing needs. And emotional wellbeing is more than the absence of mental ill health.

Last year Nuffield Health helped more than 100 ScotRail employees cope with significant emotional challenge and return to good health. It provided emotional wellbeing support for ScotRail train drivers who had suffered traumatic experiences at work. These can lead to drivers developing long-term problems including post-traumatic stress disorder.

Help starts with a call to an emotional wellbeing therapist, and can lead to a course of therapy such as cognitive behaviour therapy. All therapies are evidence-based and endorsed by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). With therapists across the country, the therapy sessions can take place face-to-face or over the phone.

The approach proved so successfulwas opened up to all colleagues across the company.

Street recommends businesses should tailor the services they offer to the unique needs of their organisation and employees. In some businesses, having mental health champions – employees who raise awareness of emotional wellbeing – can make a big difference. It changes the culture, improving understanding and making it okay to talk about emotional wellbeing.

Theresa May has publicly backed the importance of transforming mental health in the workplace. Businesses need to tackle the challenge. The message that the employer values the emotional wellbeing of its employees and expects a dialogue about it needs to be delivered via training, communication and leadership. Employers that get it right will not just be doing the right thing, they will have an edge against competitors by reducing costs and retaining the best people.

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