Interview in the Business Leader: World Mental Health Day: How business leaders can look after themselves and their staff

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In today’s rapidly changing work environment, business leaders and employees navigate significant transitions and challenges. Dr Nick Zygouris, Consultant Clinical Psychologist, emphasizes staff members’ diverse difficulties. While beneficial for some, the shift to remote work has brought about feelings of loneliness and isolation for others, exacerbating their sense of detachment.

Additionally, new employees struggle with the absence of traditional introductions and the opportunity for casual interactions that foster personal connections within the company. As hybrid work models continue to evolve, it is crucial to acknowledge the ongoing nature of these challenges. Dr Zygouris identifies the constantly changing landscape as one of the primary obstacles business leaders and employees face, leading to increased uncertainty and anxiety.

The ever-present uncertainty stemming from the pandemic and subsequent economic adjustments, such as those resulting from Brexit, weighs heavily on business leaders. The decisions they must make in such unprecedented times often bear the world’s weight on their shoulders.

Furthermore, the pandemic has heightened awareness among leaders regarding the financial strains their employees face. Adjusting to the new economy may necessitate substantial restructuring to ensure economic viability, presenting leaders with difficult choices that can impact the livelihoods of their workforce. These decisions can affect their mental well-being, causing sleepless nights and internal conflicts.

The question arises: do companies allocate sufficient focus to their well-being and that of their staff? Deloitte‘s ‘Mental Health and employers report’ from January 2020 reveals that one in six workers experiences mental health challenges at any given time. Considering the likely increase in this number due to the pandemic, it is imperative to assess whether companies are doing enough to support the well-being of their employees.

Dr Alisha Damani, Founder of The Medic Today, stresses the importance of companies appointing well-being or happiness officers. Evidence suggests that companies that actively promote healthy workplace environments experience higher staff retention rates, increased productivity, and ultimately achieve greater financial success.

Businesses have increasingly embraced measures such as Mental Health First Aid training to address mental health concerns. This standardized training equips employees with the knowledge to provide immediate support and guidance to colleagues experiencing mental health crises in the workplace. Additionally, mental health awareness training for managers helps foster constructive conversations with employees facing mental health challenges.

However, while training is a positive step, it should only be a starting point. Dr Zygouris highlights the need for ongoing support and upskilling of mental health first aiders and managers to maintain their confidence and effectiveness. Managers often find themselves uncertain about how to navigate conversations about anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts. Providing additional training and learning opportunities is essential for sustaining their confidence and ensuring practical support for employees’ mental health.

The relationship between employees and their managers is crucial to workplace well-being. Research consistently indicates that this relationship significantly affects employee satisfaction and productivity.

Consequently, investing in upskilling managers to support and maintain positive relationships can yield substantial gains in productivity and staff retention. With one in four individuals personally affected by mental illness, knowing how to effectively converse about mental health matters is paramount.

While some argue that prioritizing staff well-being is ethically imperative, it is equally important to recognize the advantages it brings to businesses. The Deloitte report highlights that for every £1 invested in mental health, businesses experience an average return of £5.

Furthermore, mental health-related absenteeism cost the UK £14 billion in 2020 alone, according to a study by Westfield Health. Dr Zygouris acknowledges that business leaders face challenges when justifying increased investment in staff well-being amidst competing demands.