Making the business case for psychological wellbeing

Today is World Mental Health Day (WMHD), a day where organisations all over the world – including the World Health Organization – are raising awareness of mental health issues and mobilising efforts to address them. Read this blog form Fiona Adshead, Chief Wellbeing Officer at Bupa.

Like all aspects of our health and wellbeing – and perhaps particularly so – mental health is very personal. In fact, it’s something many of us find difficult to talk about. However, many of us will experience times of mental ill health over our lives, just as we all experience times when we are physically unwell.

With over half the world’s population in work and many working longer than ever before, taking care of our mental wellbeing at work is extremely important – from building the resilience to manage every day pressure, to managing and recovering from mental health issues and illnesses.Employers have an important role to play in this, and a great opportunity to make a positive impact for their people and, in turn, their business.

However, perhaps unsurprisingly, these aren’t easy topics for employers to address.Seen by many as ‘the last taboo’, there is still a cultural stigma around talking about mental health in the workplace and a lack of understanding of how businesses can support staff. Recent research carried out by Bupa UK found that, whilst business leaders are the key to overcoming challenges facing employees’ health and wellbeing, 7 in 10 business leaders (68%) noted a ‘stiff upper lip attitude’ at an executive level, creating barriers to conversations about it.

Yet there’s no denying that it makes good business sense to support employees’ psychological wellbeing in the workplace. One in four people in the UK are likely to experience a mental health problem every year, meaning potentially a quarter of a business’ workforce could be affected.And the impact is clear. Data from the UK shows that absence due to poor mental health management costs employers over £25 billion annually, as well as making a huge dent on productivity – 15.2 million working days were lost to mental health problems such as stress, depression and anxiety in 2013.

Helping people look after their mental wellbeing at work is a key focus for us at Bupa, both for our own people in our role as an employer, and for our customers. It is a complex area and there is no one-size-fits-all silver bullet. Really tackling this means taking a holistic view of everything that contributes to someone’s health and wellbeing, understanding their needs, and providing tailored support.We are all different, and what we need will vary at different times.

Sometimes promoting mental health isn’t about offering a specific tool or product, it’s about creating the right culture and environment, equipping people to look after what matters most to them.That is the thinking, for example, behind a resilience programme we run for our own people. Created with a clinical psychologist, it provides training on the physiology of resilience and energy, making good choices and maintaining a sense of control, as well as educating on the impacts of different mind-sets and attitudes at work. It gives managers permission and employees the flexibility to put themselves first. The idea is that employees identify a few things that make a big difference to their health and happiness – whether that’s walking the dog, having breakfast with their family or a phone call with a friend – and their manager is aware of this.

By making time for these things, no matter what else happens, they can build the resilience to manage pressures and stay at their best.Resilience is part of our global approach to wellbeing for our people, called Smile, with different tailored programmes in place all over the world to help our people be at their best mentally and physically – in work and outside of it.

For example, in the UK, our Healthy Minds programme gives employees confidential services to help manage their mental wellbeing, including direct access to support and treatment, usually without the need to see a GP first, and an online self-help platform.

​Whilst we have some great things in place, there is much more we want to do in this space, to really understand the drivers of mental health and wellbeing in the workplace and how we can support people to be at their best – from supportive line manager relationships to a conducive physical environment. It is something we will continue to invest in and develop, for our own employees and our customers.

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