PATH Yorkshire have invited me to speak at a workshop on 19th July at Shine in Leeds, about the change management processes that will help an organisation introduce a more proactive approach to the mental health and wellbeing of their employees.
The invitation arrives in the wake of a visit to Leeds by HRH Prince Harry during which he spoke about the need for everyone to be more open about mental health issues and accepting that everyone is has an equal potential of having a mental health challenge.
At the same time, I have spoken to employers who whilst keen to talk positively in support of the Prince’s message are reluctant to acknowledge that their employees are at risk or that their way of working may put people at risk. I get an overwhelming feeling that a lot of employers are in denial. So, being asked to continue the conversation about mental health is quite a privilege.
I will be looking at how an individual within an organisation, regardless of whether they are a HR professional or not can build a case for introducing a proactive approach to employee physical and mental health and wellbeing.
We will look at the processes of building the business case and identifying how to position that proposition so that it is readily accepted by a senior management team and implemented.
This event comes at a time when the reluctance of employers to be involved in the management of employee health is having an impact on productivity and the number of employees with health issues is increasing. A recent survey of 2,000 UK workers conducted by PwC found that just over a third (34%) were struggling with a mental health issue, most commonly anxiety, depression and stress. Mental Health charity, Mind, says that a quarter (26 per cent) of staff with mental health issues thought work was the main cause.
Part of the problem is as the Heads Together campaign launched by Prince Harry and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge says people are not talking about mental health. There is a way to go before people can feel comfortable about it.
Research published by insurer Legal & General shows that fewer than one in 10 employees would feel comfortable discussing mental health problems with their manager. They just do not have the confidence in their managers, but 78 per cent of those managers think their staff would be happy to have a conversation with them about their mental health. So, it is easy for managers to believe that if the employee is not starting that conversation, perhaps there isn’t a problem?
If the conversation isn’t happening, and there is no published policy about health and wellbeing, and no health-related benefits, more than half (54 per cent) of the employees surveyed by PwC said that their employer did not offer any health perks, such as subsidised gym membership, health screenings or counselling, then neither the manager or the employee knows what the other is thinking. You end up with a situation in which research published by insurer Aviva found that as many as 43% of employees feel that they employers value productivity more highly than the health of their employees.
It all starts to feel somewhat dark satanic mills.
But, if productivity is what concerns you, the PwC research identified that 39% of employees take time off or cut back on the work that they were doing as a result of their health, and 83% described their levels of productivity being strongly linked to their well-being. This results in an absence figure of 27 days per year per employee according to the Financial Times. Add that to an employee’s holiday entitlement and you could be looking at an average employee only being at work for just over 9 months of the year.
Add this to recent figures from the Office for National Statistics which show that overall UK productivity is falling, as measured by output per hour, is estimated to have fallen by 0.5% from Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2016 to Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2017; over a longer time-period, labour productivity growth has been lower on average than prior to the economic downturn.
All the evidence over a long period of time identifies that healthier, happier employees are better performers, they stay, they have a long-term impact on cost reduction and have fewer accidents.
So why aren’t businesses more interested in maintaining employee health?
In part, the perception of employees that productivity is more important has an element of truth.
As employers, we do not understand enough about what makes one employee more productive than another or what make one employee more susceptible to illness than their colleagues. What we do know is that successful businesses take a proactive approach to managing both productivity and employee health and absence.
The first step is to make sure that your senior managers are on-board with the approach and that is what we will explore at the event on 19th July.