Well‑being in the Workplace

By Holly Wallis

At ReputationInc we believe that a successful reputation is built from within the organisation. Investing in a strong employer reputation helps not only to boost employee engagement, but also to leverage employee advocacy and to attract top talent. Looking after employee mental health is a crucial part of internal reputation-building and employer brand success.

The understanding that employers should make provisions for employees with mental health illnesses has solidified in the past decade, thanks to leading initiatives by charities such as the Royal Foundation (Heads Together), the Mental Health Foundation and Mind. These ground-breaking charity campaigns have both raised public awareness around understanding mental health illnesses as well as have encouraged individuals with these conditions to seek help. During mental health awareness week recently, the BBC released an eye-opening docuseries exploring the lives of recognisable public figures, each experiencing a type of mental illness. Of course, much more can, and should, be done to educate employers on this topic, especially here in the UK where we like to keep a stiff upper lip, but most would agree that some degree of progress has been made in the past decade in overcoming the stigma previously associated with mental illness.

In 2017, Prime Minister Theresa May commissioned an Independent Review on the topic of mental health and employers in the UK. In a report for the Independent Review, led by Lord Dennis Stevenson and Paul Farmer, several astonishing statistics were listed. For instance, 300,000 people with a long term mental health problem lose their jobs each year. Additionally, around 15% of people at work have symptoms of an existing mental health condition. In a study by Deloitte for the Independent Review, it was revealed that there is a large annual cost from poor mental health in the workplace to UK employers of between £33 and £42 billion.

Responsive companies are ahead of the curve and their approach to boosting employee mental well-being is paying dividends. Take, for instance, the example of Unilever. In addition to their global strategy for Medical and Occupational Health, which ensures that they are kept physically in-check, Unilever also provides a cutting-edge ‘Well-being Framework’. This framework defines holistic well-being as “a sustainable state of feeling good and functioning well, as a ‘whole human’. Well-being unleashes the energy in our people to drive sustainable performance.”

Unilever’s well-being framework addresses four pillars: 1. Physical; 2. Purposeful; 3. Mental; and 4. Emotional. They state that the top three identified health risks that they are tackling are: 1. Mental health; 2. Lifestyle factors (for example, exercise, nutrition, smoking and obesity); and 3. Ergonomic factors (for example, physical health issues such as repetitive stain injury). Unilever states on its website that they evaluate the impact of their Lamplighter employee health program, by “measuring health risk factors at country level over a three-to-five year period.”

Unilever’s Well-being Framework may well be a contributing factor towards the high ratings found on employee review sites. On Glassdoor 84% of employees would recommend working at Unilever to a friend. On Indeed, one employee writes, “When you do leave you will find it hard to work for just anyone, because you become used to being treated in a certain way and now have the need to find a company that matches your values…” Another says, “A fantastic place to work! Great energy, a forward thinking environment and a really good at looking after their employees.” Many of the reviews refer to Unilever's good work-life balance, the appeal of it's workplace environment and the ‘friendliness’ of the staff and management, all of which are driven by healthy employee mental health.

According to Theresa May’s 2017 commissioned Independent Review, there were several recommendations that companies should consider in order to best support their colleagues with hidden illnesses. These form, what the report calls “mental health core standards” which are “drawn from best practice and, as far as possible, are evidence based”. These are:

  • Produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan
  • Develop mental health awareness among employees
  • Encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling
  • Provide employees with good working conditions and ensure they have a healthy work life balance and opportunities for development
  • Promote effective people management through line managers and supervisors
  • Routinely monitor employee mental health and well-being

With a growing millennial and Generation-Z population in the workforce, demonstrating a clear sense of support for individuals with all forms of disability is not only a necessity in terms of ethics, but also a driver for a company’s employer reputation. Mental health illnesses have been escalating among those in younger generations, given the unique pressures facing young people today. Among others, these include the 24/7 nature of social media, increasingly competitive national exam standards, as well as concerns around climate change. Implementing mental health support structures in the workplace can only help to increase talent retention and acquisition, and to prove that you are an employer that truly cares.

Mental illness is a challenge, but it is not a weakness.” According to a study by Ralph van den Bosch and Toon W. Taris, feeling authentic and open at work leads to better performance, engagement, employee retention, and overall well-being. It’s simple – employees work better when they are happier. If we can continue raising awareness around mental illness at work, then maybe we can start achieving long-lasting change, once and for all breaking down the stigma. We have come far already on tackling the issue, but there is still a longer way to go. Caring for employee well-being shouldn’t be underestimated when it comes to safeguarding a positive reputation amongst internal stakeholders.

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