Over the past twenty years or more, responsibility for employee health has largely gravitated towards voluntary action on the part of forward-thinking employers, realising that they can play a large role in improving well-being through health promotion and ill health prevention activities. Encouraging life-style changes, some employers have increased expectations on their leadership to perform in this area, where those in leadership are required to model and grow healthy work behaviours. While a positive trend, not enough is being done to assist employees with countering the stresses that our world is experiencing currently.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), in partnership with Simplyhealth, in their recent survey, “Health and Well-Being at Work”, provides valuable benchmarking data to help organisations evaluate and improve their health and well-being practices. It also aims to get under the skin of workplace policy and culture to give the professional environment greater insight into what’s really driving employee absence, attendance, and behaviour. In effect, the survey notes the following with respect to the UK: “We seem to accept that stress and exhaustion is the new normal – we shouldn’t. Reports show that the UK workforce is working some of the longest hours in Europe, but it’s not reaping any rewards in terms of health, quality of work and productivity. Leaders and line managers need to deliver well-being strategies which ensure people feel looked after by their employers to help them engage and have the best quality of working life possible. However, it’s unfair to expect managers to support a solid well-being strategy without receiving the support they need to deliver it in the first place. Managers need training and guidance to have the confidence to deal with often difficult and personal health conversations with their team members.”

The COVID 19 pandemic has further compounded the negative effects of stress on the mental well-being of employees, with feelings of loneliness as a result of isolation, the inability to contribute fully to a team context and the subsequent lack of recognition from managers. Remote working has resulted in working longer hours than normal for some, giving rise to the inability to “switch off” during out-of-work hours. While the top two causes of stress remain heavy workloads and management style, COVID-related anxiety has added significantly to feelings of despair. Employees are overwhelmed, leading to ‘absenteeism’ (not showing up), ‘presenteeism’ (working when unwell), and ‘leaveism’ (using annual leave to catch up on work or working on sick leave). This dysfunctionality affects productivity and quality negatively and leads to unhealthy cultural behaviours.

The CIPD survey report concludes: “More employers are stepping up their efforts to foster mentally healthy workplaces, but there needs to be a more systematic approach to preventing and managing psychological risk. Organisations need to identify the key risks to people’s mental well-being, for example by conducting stress risk audits, and develop effective action plans to address them. Not enough organisations are equipping line managers with the knowledge and skills to support good mental health. This is why people professionals are still more likely to disagree than agree that managers have the skills and confidence required to manage mental health effectively.”

Free To Grow has developed the programme, Staying Strong, to enhance the skills of managers to implement healthy workplace practices (www.freetogrow.com). For more information, contact me on jonathan@ftgsa.co.za

Leave a Reply