According to the Mental Health Foundation and the London School of Economics, poor mental health costs the UK economy £117.9 billion annually. The organisations jointly advocate for greater spending and intervention to support people living with mental health conditions, citing the workplace as an “important setting where actions can be taken to promote and protect mental health”.
In the wake of the Government’s Spring Budget commitment to spend £400 million on improving mental health and musculoskeletal support for workers, Jane Hulme, HR Director at Unum UK, provides some tips on how to support employees experiencing anxiety in the workplace.
According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), 17 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression and anxiety in 2021/22. This accounts for more than half (55%) of all working days lost to work-related ill health.
The main work factors cited by respondents as causing work-related stress, depression or anxiety were workload pressures, including tight deadlines, too much responsibility and a lack of managerial support.
Spot the signs
Upskilling line managers is crucial so they can spot signs of strain and feel confident and competent in identifying that a team member is struggling. Training can help them have that conversation with the employee and know what support is available to help them.
Once a need has been identified, an offering such as Unum’s Wellbeing Check could prove invaluable. Employers noticing an employee is struggling with their wellbeing or the employee themselves can refer to the service, which provides a 1-2-1 coaching session for support — whether the issue is personal or work-related. The employee gets a report containing recommendations to help them connect with the right tools — mindfulness is one of the things we tend to recommend to help people cope if they’re struggling at work.
Clear, open and regular face-to-face conversations with team member will negate ‘the unknown’ — a common cause of anxiety. Make sure you cover subjects that could be anxiety-inducing, such as workload, performance and expectations. Always ensure that an employee knows where to turn to if they are struggling. One way to help open a dialogue is through the use of a Wellness Action Plan (WAP). By completing a WAP, an employee will be able to gain an awareness of what works and what doesn’t work in terms of managing their wellbeing, learn what support they require from their manager and develop behaviours that support their health.
Manage the cause
Making reasonable adjustments to the workplace are a key part of enabling an employee to do their job and manage anxiety in the workplace. Given everyone is different, choosing the correct adjustments is vital to ensure effective support — as well as fulfilling your legal obligation.
Examples of reasonable adjustments might be:
- Allowing flexible start and finish times
- Reducing volume of work, or offering training to help manage workloads effectively
- Providing a quiet place to work, or the option to work flexibly from home.
Provide professional support
Unum’s research into the ‘great resignation’ in 2021, found a fifth (21%) of surveyed employees felt their employer failed to look after their mental health during the pandemic. And among workers who wanted to change jobs or did so during the pandemic, 23% said it was because their employer did not offer high quality benefit packages or support.
So there continues to be a compelling case for employers and people managers to provide support through their wellbeing strategy to help increase focus on addressing mental health problems in the UK. Luckily, many employers now offer access to digital health and wellbeing services such as remote GPs, counselling and physiotherapy which can help employees get the support they require quicker than relying on an already overstretched NHS system.
In Q1 2023, anxiety was the leading cause of mental health appointment bookings via Unum’s health and wellbeing app Help@hand and booked mental health appointments exceeded 1,000 bookings per month in 2023 for the first time in the app’s history. In light of the growing demand for this type of mental health support for employees and eligible family members, Help@hand is now offering unlimited mental health consultations. This removes employees’ anxiety around ‘running out of sessions’.
For Mental Health Awareness Week and beyond, the organisations that bring a proactive focus to supporting their employees are the ones who will achieve the best results. By proactively supporting your employees, encouraging open two-way communication and choosing the right reasonable adjustments when appropriate, you can help create a workplace and a workspace that are built to allow employees to bring their whole selves to work.
The following feedback was provided from a Help@hand user who reached out for mental health support due to feelings of anxiety leading to insomnia:
“The consultant helped me clarify my thoughts, travel a bit back in time to my childhood and look at how those issues were impacting me. This helped heal a lot of trauma I did not realise I even had. Now I sleep better and I am confident about what I want. I also find that I understand the behaviour of people around me and can positively reframe my childhood.
I think the real antidote is speaking to someone who is trained to understand who can help take the narratives out of the subconscious and help deal with issues. Knowing that you are having a confidential chat to someone who is not judgemental and wants you to get better is good. I felt I had — and still have — someone to talk to if I need to discuss something important that is troubling me. This means that I am happier and can spend my energy on more productive things than rumination of negative emotions.”