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How to make mental health a business priority

How to make mental health a business priority

by Nick Gallimore, Managing Director - People Management

When external factors and global crises make their impact known for businesses, in the mad scrabble for ongoing continuity, it’s all too easy to lose sight of the human cost of the associated stresses and strains which these circumstances can bring.

From an organisational perspective, what does this mean for your employees? The impact that long term financial strain and other stresses can have on the wellbeing of your people is significant and businesses can’t afford to ignore the pivotal role their HR function can play in helping to engage with their employees and do what they can to mitigate the impact on their people.

What are the consequences for your business?

Mental health is closely entwined with employee engagement and wellbeing. Even if mental wellbeing hasn’t been on your radar as a priority previously, the fact remains that

  • Financial concerns-  Research by Neyber found that on average, money worries lose the UK economy on average, a staggering 17.5 million hours of lost work. Furthermore, with 59% of workers also feeling that financial worries impact their performance, it’s clear that businesses cannot afford to take their eye off the ball when it comes to the financial wellbeing of their employees. The prolonged financial constraints being experienced by many businesses have meant that there is little scope to reward employees financially or be flexible with wage increases.
  • Physical and mental wellbeing/ Lack of engagement- Employees who find themselves under increased strain will understandably be more distracted, with the heightened stress leading to a loss of sleep and overall becoming more disengaged and distracted with work.It’s  also fairly self evident to say that employees who are facing financial hardship are likely to feel the strain mentally, which in turn will have knock on effect with how they engage with their workplace. Money worries can lead to heightened anxiety and a lack of sleep, which will compound any strain being felt by people. From an employer perspective, businesses in particular need to be mindful of how mental health struggles related to financial worries can actively hamper a person’s confidence in seeking out help.
  • Talent Attraction- Of all the post-pandemic challenges facing businesses right now, the ability to attract and retain talent is most definitely one which organisations will be looking to place a focus upon. The cost of living crisis is now presenting a specific set of challenges which businesses need to be mindful of in order to distinguish themselves above their competitors and appear sympathetic to the needs of today’s workforce. A big component of this will be exploring their benefits and rewards schemes in order to see if they align with the priorities of candidates, as well as demonstrating a commitment to safeguarding wellbeing.
  • Talent Retention- Businesses who also fail to accommodate for the impact of external crises or offer an appropriate support framework, run the risk of alienating their people and incentivising them to walk out of the door. The Employee Value Proposition (EVP) is one of the most driving factors in helping to retain talent, with organisations being encouraged to present themselves as more empathetic and supportive entities to work for. A truly embedded EVP will be rewarding people on the basis of the factors which matter most to them. Research by Aviva found that traditional rewards such as pay and annual leave still matters the most to people and it is a clear indication to organisations that their wage structure should serve as the foundation of their benefits structure.

How to raise awareness of mental health

One of the greatest obstacles facing business leaders when tackling the issue of employee wellbeing is the perceived stigma around mental health discussions within the workplace. Even pre pandemic, there was a sense that this was a somewhat uncomfortable, almost taboo subject with many who suffered from mental illness feeling as though they were unable to lean on their employers for support. A report by Mental Health UK suggests that 47% of the people surveyed felt they had experienced discrimination within the workplace as a result of mental illness, with 55% saying they could not disclose information about their mental health to their colleagues.

The continued stigma around mental health in the workplace presents a barrier for leaders and HR professionals when trying to develop appropriate support strategies for employees. HSE have outlined management standards for good practice in supporting the mental wellbeing of employees. Within these standards, the emphasis is placed upon managers acting as thought leaders and actively promoting a company culture that is open and frank around mental health discussions.

Removing the stigma around mental health discussions will be absolutely key in helping any programmes of support and wellbeing hit the ground running. By creating a more open and nurturing environment

Resetting the work/life divide

One of the greatest changes over the past few years has been the erosion for many of a clear divide in their work and home life. Where people used to traditionally draw a line under the working by leaving the office space, working from home for many now means that signing off for the day is as extensive as turning off a laptop or moving from one room in the house to another. For many, this has created a blurring of the traditional line between work and home. 

The adoption of new technology which has been a boon for organisations in ensuring they are able to maintain business continuity alongside hybrid working models, also means that employees are more connected than ever with the everyday flow of their business. For many, this has created an “Always on” culture where employees find it increasingly difficult to disengage from work outside of office hours. The RSPH report that more than half (56%) of those who started working from home said they found it harder to switch off, while almost two in five (38%) said the change had disturbed their sleep.

Managers and Business leaders play the greatest role in promoting the “Always on” culture. The Economist suggests that employees match the behaviour of the hierarchy and that if lower-level employees see exec level leaders responding to emails out of office hours, then they also feel pressured to do the same. This leads to increased levels of anxiety and stress for employees who never feel truly disengaged from the office space.

It is important that from an executive-level that leaders make a statement of intent regarding work schedules and to define in absolute terms, what they constitute as urgent, in order to ensure employees don’t feel pressured into replying to every email outside of office hours.

What’s next?

It’s clear that when times of crisis hit hard, your people can become exposed to significant amounts of stress. In periods such as recession, external factors like money worries can bring worries that are all consuming- deeply affecting the mental wellbeing of your people and leading to a greater sense of disengagement within the workplace.

When times get tough, businesses understandably want to focus on creating a sense of business continuity and operational effectiveness. Unfortunately, it is all too common for the human factor to be lost and for organisations to lose sight of how these same external stresses may be impacting their people. Policies based around supporting the mental wellbeing of employees forms a core pillar of the people experience within an organisation and businesses who are able to demonstrate a clear and committed focus on promoting positive mental health will set themselves above their competitors as desirable places to work,

We’ve created our HR crisis toolkit specifically to provide organisations with tools and ideas to help spark the creative process and help you understand how you can put the people experience of your workforce first, no matter the situation. Download the free toolkit today to discover how you can make the mental health of your people a business priority now.

Nick Gallimore

Nick Gallimore


Managing Director - People Management

Nick is a Talent Management specialist, who has spent his entire career working with organisations looking to transform the way they hire, develop and manage their people. He works with our HR software customers, providing specialist consulting and advice around all aspects of the Talent Management lifecycle, helping them to deliver their strategic people aims.

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