The mental health of employees has, quite rightly, been more of a consideration for employers since the pandemic. Clare Price, Director of Clinical Services, Onebright, explains how mental health is not black and white, it is a grey area, which is why there is no one size fits all policy for your workforce. She said: “People are complex, everyone manages their workloads and balances their personal lives differently. People prefer different methods of communication, and they showcase their strengths in different ways. “That is why it is important for business leaders to recognise that no two people are the same and that it is vitally important all employees have access to a menu of different support when they are worried about their mental health.” Price said that for businesses to implement mental health support that is credible, it is important for business leaders to champion and endorse it. By leading from the top and talking about their own mental health, business leaders and managers can cement a caring and trusting culture which in turn will encourage colleagues to speak out and seek help when required. She added: “Conversations can help to identify underlying issues and concerns that your employees have about their mental health and help you to gain a greater understanding of the support they may need. “Everyone within an organisation is responsible for creating a culture which cares about others. Encourage teams to stay connected and host regular check-ins which are conversational and relaxed, thus providing employees with the opportunity to talk about their work/life balance and anything that they may be finding challenging.” If an employee feels like they aren’t coping with their workload, they are stressed or burned out and need adaptations to their work or role, it can help if managers are as flexible as possible to help keep the person in work. Look at what modifications can be considered in relation to someone’s role, such as adjusting hours, workload, tactics, breaks or perhaps providing an employee with a mentor. Signpost people to a mental health first aider in your organisation or an employee assistance programme if you have one. Perhaps look to integrate a page on your intranet or employee communications system about how people can access national support. Ensure all employees are aware of the support available to them. Kate Hayward, Director of Operations UK & EMEA, Xero: Answering why small businesses should focus spending on mental health initiatives is both straightforward and difficult. It’s straightforward because the enormous value of mental health support and creating an open workplace for them and their staff is not in question. It’s a tough question because many small business owners would love to be able to invest time and money in mental health initiatives. Instead of asking why they should invest, perhaps we should ask why they can’t, and look at the obstacles in their way. Owners and staff are facing a period of unprecedented uncertainty and disruption. Our recent study found more than nine out of 10 small business owners experienced symptoms of poor mental health during the last two years. Challenging times Small businesses don’t have the support they need – financial and otherwise – to embrace initiatives that could make a real difference to their mental health and business success. Almost half (47%) of small businesses do not believe there is enough governmental support in place. And this is a huge shame. Offering mental health support drives better economic outcomes and the ability to grow and retain more staff for businesses. In fact, those who invested more than £1,000 in mental health initiatives enjoyed far greater revenue growth than those who invested less or nothing at all. They also recorded an average increase in employee numbers of 47% between early 2020 and 2022. Given the small business community is so crucial to the recovery of the UK economy as a whole, more must be done to empower owners to embrace these initiatives. Positive change In the meantime, positive change can be made. For example, developing and encouraging a wellbeing-led workplace to help owners and staff better manage their mental health. You can do this by making information around how the business supports mental health readily available and a key part of the employee induction process. This can include introducing mental health first aiders in the office and sharing resources from organisations such as Mind. It’s also important to set a positive tone through seemingly simple actions like encouraging full lunch breaks, as well as clear boundaries for working hours (bearing in mind flexible working) to enable better work-life balance and avoid burnout, and creating an open culture. Owners who so often feel obligated to burn the midnight oil should try and follow these boundaries, too, to both support themselves and set a good example for their staff. While the benefits of mental health investment are clear, small business owners have so much on their plates at the moment it’s tough for them to prioritise it. That’s why it’s so important for others to step up and help small businesses, so that owners can support their own wellbeing and that of their staff. Martijn Aslander, Tech Philosopher, Guest Speaker and Thought Leader: Most SME employees spend more than five hours a day in front of a screen, this could include a combination of a desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone. However, the human brain can only focus for roughly four hours a day. The introduction of the computer promised to save a lot of time and effort – but it turned the other way around. More concerning is the fact that a lot of the younger generation mistake emailing all day as work. Also, the way we organise work is based on the 1950s’ organisational model – working from 9 to 5. So, focusing is almost impossible with a steady stream of messages across all sorts of platforms with managers that are micromanaging their people. There’s a lot of evidence that we are at the verge of a tsunami of mental health issues for knowledge workers. To address and prevent this, owners of SMEs must invest in digital fitness for their personnel. Because no one ever learned how to deal with larger quantities of information and where to store, retrieve and communicate it. Somehow, we invested a lot of money in IT, but all the money went to the T, and we forgot about the I. People have to learn new skills and insights that help them clear their mind, focusing on effectiveness rather than efficiency. Email is the famous canary in the coalmine. Solving this, together with other aspects of digital hygiene is far more important than focusing on digital skills. At least 10 weeks per year are wasted on lack of digital fitness, as we found in our research. Investing in it will bring more mental space and also more progress Anselm Mendes, Executive Director – Sales, The Continental Group: The spending on mental health initiatives is rationalised by the fact that, in any organisation and particularly in SMEs, people are the biggest assets. Decision-makers in corporate circles are increasingly subscribing to that notion. At the Continental Group, we see physical and mental health as two sides of the same coin – both equally paramount. One can liken physical and mental health to hardware and software, respectively. The outcomes are optimal only when they both work efficiently in tandem. Stigmatised and brushed under the carpet for a long time, mental health has begun to generate mainstream attention in the last couple of years. While the discourse has not reached the level needed to raise widespread awareness, the progress thus far has been promising. Corporates aside, even employees are increasingly becoming vocal about their struggles, without letting inhibitions and stigmas get in the way. To make up for the historical lack of investments in mental wellness initiatives, corporates are now doubling down. In the Continental Group, the long-standing support system for any issues – physical, mental, professional and personal – has enabled us to make good headway. Alongside an empathy-based environment, we have several initiatives in place. Time-off is not just contingent on physiological health issues but psychological ones as well, so that employees can recuperate and come back as their best selves. Periodically, we bring in experts in stress management, meditation, yoga and work-life balance to conduct workshops and sessions. Our objective is to foster a community spirit – where wellness is institutionalised. Over the years, we have succeeded in building an environment that characterises acceptance, openness and unconditional support. In our line of work – financial, insurance, wealth management advisory – an empathy-driven, non-judgemental approach is a business imperative. We hear stories of affliction on a regular basis – something that makes you inherently sensitised to mental health challenges. Just recently, we had a client, a cancer survivor, come in and talk to our staff about her struggles and recovery. Our work revolves around empowering clients like her financially. Such uplifting conversations and motivational talks in industry platforms such as the Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT) continue to shape our positive approach to mental wellness. Accordingly, we are investing in fostering support systems and team cohesion and providing access to related resources. These conscious efforts are underpinned by the belief that an organisation is only as healthy as its people. Chandra Dake, Executive Chairman & Group CEO, Dake Group: Following the pandemic outbreak, there is a collective consciousness among corporates on the need to prioritise mental wellness. It has become an obligation; not a choice. That effect is pronounced among SMEs because of the tight-knit workforce. For leaders, that also makes it easier to effectively launch mental health initiatives and measure the impact. From offering flexible working to creating dedicated support systems, there are many ways SMEs can drive positive change. At Dake Group, we have witnessed incidents of employees struggling with personal finances and the passing of family members. Such issues took their toll on their mental health and productivity. We immediately facilitated counselling sessions for them, leading to positive outcomes. That was possible due to open communication. Likewise, SMEs can create avenues, such as anonymous feedback, to enable employees to voice their concerns and take corrective measures in response. Periodically, even if everything is seemingly fine, leaders must foster team cohesion through get-togethers, workshops, training and outings. Team cohesion often translates to a good support system, where employees can communicate without inhibitions and feeling stigmatised. We had a few reputable speakers/subject-matter experts come in and raise awareness of mental health challenges and how to address them effectively. Such investments are perquisites for any organisation today. So, I believe the case for investments in mental health initiatives makes itself. Mental illnesses have become an epidemic in themselves, and our redressal actions must reflect the severity and urgency. We have a solutions-driven approach to mental health, just as we do to sustainability. We believe that mental health requires nothing less. Atul Hegde, Founder of YAAP: In SMEs, the roles are often fluid, requiring employees to go beyond the call of duty at times. While there are advantages, including but not limited to higher professional cohesion, more room for creativity and overall flexibility, the work environment can get stressful during economic downturns. The pandemic laid bare such issues. Many, particularly youngsters, crumbled under pressure — which soon snowballed into a silent epidemic. If it taught the leaders one thing, it is that mental health emphasis is non-negotiable today and for the foreseeable future. What previously was a point of contention is now finding consensus. So, we are talking about a structural shift in perspectives — the kind that SMEs must embrace with a supporting framework of initiatives and investments. Forward-thinking leaders have ramped up their health insurance offerings to alleviate the crisis. That alone will not suffice; the crisis calls for a multi-pronged, human-centred approach. As a content-led marketer who focuses heavily on messaging, I believe how leaders communicate with employees makes all the difference. Leaders must lead with empathy. It can only happen when leaders develop self awareness of mental health challenges. That will enable employees to come forward and voice their struggles. An open line of communication, a track record of empathy-driven leadership, and a problem-solving attitude can be foundational for any mental health initiative or investment to bear fruit. In simpler terms, it is a feeling that we are all in this together. That is what a leader must strive to evoke. While there are initiatives that are commonly undertaken by SMEs — an annual allowance of sick days for mental health reasons, counselling support and flexible working — I believe a company should formulate its own action plan as per in-house circumstances. An IT manager has unique expectations and different stress levels compared to, say, a lawyer. While a work from home policy is easily actionable in the IT sector, it runs into operational challenges in law. At YAAP, we have an internal consul for mental health initiatives. I believe such measures will be mandated by law soon. Until then, the onus is on leaders to drive positive change. Abhay Pandey, Founder & CEO, MAST Consulting Group: In SMEs, every employee has a discernible impact on growth and other business outcomes. So, unlike in mega corporations, where mental health is advocated through blanket initiatives, SMEs should adopt a hands-on approach. The first decisive step that leaders can take is to educate themselves about mental health, associated challenges, prevalence and plausible solutions, especially in the corporate context. Mental health is a complex subject with different triggers and manifestations. Even a slight increase in work-related stress can adversely impact mental wellness. Subsequently, leaders must drive efforts to normalise conversations about mental health in the work environment. Leaders who are vocal about their own challenges have found considerable success in creating empathy-based work environments where employees can sidestep stigmas, share their struggles and work toward betterment. So, in other words, a company with easy access to support systems often characterises good senior level management. On the investment front, SMEs can enhance the accessibility of mental health care as part of employee benefits. Also, periodic training from experts can be provided to the team. Most importantly, mental health emphasis must be institutionalised, creating a work culture aimed at empowering all employees. The associated efforts include having periodic catch-up days without formal obligations and making deadlines less strenuous and more flexible. For SMEs, such efforts are a social as well as business imperative because reputable studies suggest that a work environment with a positive approach to addressing mental health challenges is linked to higher employee productivity, increased retention and better CX outcomes. An SME’s differentiation in today’s heightened-awareness phase is not limited to unique value propositions; it is also contingent on demonstrated advocacy toward mental wellness.

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