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As we’ve seen from COVID, and the geopolitical and economic crises that followed, there are many factors that have caused stress in recent times, and understanding as many potential reasons is key in implementing the best mental health policy within an organisation.
There are several elements to consider, firstly those that are perhaps most obvious to any employer – and can be most easily remedied: workload, job demands, relationships with colleagues, organisational culture, and leadership style all influence employee mental health.
Workplace Factors Which Impact Employee Mental Health
Simply questioning whether the business is putting too much pressure on employees should be the starting point, because when the work environment is stressful, with high demands and poor management, it can lead to burnout and depression. Cigna Healthcare’s 360 Global Well-being Survey 2022 revealed that 84% of employees are stressed, with symptoms of burnout being shown by a growing number. “Burnout can be difficult to detect for many,” says Dr Anne Lepetit, Medical Director at Cigna Healthcare, “and people react to it in different ways, so we need to be mindful that team leaders and managers aren’t perfect – they need to be coached to listen to employees and to recognise the warning signs. We all know prevention is always better than cure, but it does not happen overnight. We must all get better at recognising the symptoms of burnout, as the earlier they’re detected the better the prognosis can be”.
The environment in which employees work can also impact their mental health. If they are working in an office setting this is something employers can directly influence. It might be as simple as having good lighting, access to outside space, ergonomic desk and chair design, and the correct noise levels – simple things that can make a big difference to workplace mental health.
A third aspect on which employers can have a direct impact is work/life balance. Are there policies in place to make arrangements to suit all employees’ needs? Employers should consider offering flexible working hours or remote work options to reduce the stress of juggling personal responsibilities and job duties. The 360 Global Well-being Survey also revealed that only a third of respondents (35%) said they had been offered flexible working hours and location despite it being the top non-financial criteria for job hunters. It is essential to recognise the impact these factors can have on employee mental health and take steps to promote a positive and healthy work environment for all employees.
Once you’ve looked within, it’s time to consider the external and individual factors that could influence mental health in your workplace.
External and Personal Factors which impact employee mental health
1. Financial concerns
37% of workers are worried about the inflation crisis1
Employees' financial worries don't stay at home just because they are in the workplace. Concerns about salary levels, worries about job security, or poor personal financial management can contribute to financial stress, affecting an employee's mental well-being. This has been compounded by the cost of living crisis. Cigna Healthcare's latest (March 2023) 360 Global Survey of nearly 9,000 global workers found that 37% of respondents said the inflation crisis is their biggest worry, with that figure as high as 47% in Singapore, 46% in the United Kingdom, and 45% in the United States. Meanwhile, only a third said their financial situation is good, with most people at almost every income level now worried about their finances.
A study undertaken last year by the National Library of Medicine2 confirms that people experiencing financial strain are more likely to experience depression and anxiety. Financial stress can affect mental health by reducing self-esteem, increasing worry, and impairing decision-making. Employers can help alleviate the symptoms of financial stress by offering competitive salaries, benefits packages, and financial wellness programmes. Creating a positive work environment with open communication and support can also help reduce the impact of financial stress on employees' mental health.
2. Physical health
30% of people with a long-term physical health condition also have a mental health problem3
We know that physical and mental health are closely linked. If an employee arrives at work in a poor physical health state, their mental preparation for the working day is seriously compromised. Their physical condition could be down to general poor well-being due to lack of exercise, poor diet and irregular sleep, or something condition-related, such as an illness. Either way, understanding your employees' physical condition and finding compassionate ways to support their well-being can positively impact mental health.
3. Global issues
57% of people suffered some form of stress during the COVID pandemic4
Global factors such as economic conditions, political unrest, and natural disasters can significantly impact employee mental health. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of employers prioritising mental health support for their employees. While global factors can rarely be controlled, employees who feel able to share their concerns with managers and colleagues in a trusting environment will be better positioned to cope with any negative feelings.
A 2022 report by Gartner5 revealed that employees want their employers to support their holistic well-being, which extends to advocating for the issues they care about. In addition, 65% report they would like to work for organisations with a strong social and environmental conscience, which includes making statements about and taking action on the social and political issues they care about.
56% of working parents say the balancing act is difficult6
Childcare issues can affect the employee's mental health by putting additional demands on their time, energy and resources. Whether it’s education, healthcare or socialisation there are many childcare issues that can be challenging for employees. There could be issues with finding affordable and quality childcare services, balancing work and family obligations, managing children's behavioural or emotional problems and supporting their children's learning and development.
Employers can support their employees by offering flexible work arrangements or on-site childcare options. By doing so, they can help alleviate some of the stress that comes with balancing work and family responsibilities.
5. Personal circumstances
45% of Americans say that moving house is the most stressful life event7
Stressful events like divorce or the death of a loved one can lead to depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues. Even the greatest days of your life – the birth of your first child, getting married, moving into a new home – can come with an inordinate amount of stress. Additionally, there are personal situations that some employees may face that can be particularly stressful, such as caring for ageing parents or relatives and dealing with chronic illnesses or disabilities. Offering resources like counselling services can go a long way to help alleviate stress and ensure the employee feels valued.
All of these factors might seem very different, but the approach to handling them is the same – being open to the fact every employee has unique challenges that might be linked to their personal life, but could have an impact on their working life. It’s an understanding that should be company-wide. First, do your managers know how to recognise the signs of stress? What strategy is in place to help manage that stress and help your employees get the support they need? It’s not just helping them to handle the stress itself, but working their way through the cause of it to help deliver longer-term solutions that ultimately pave the way to a more positive working life.
Let us all do our part in ensuring that our workplaces prioritise employee mental health. If you haven’t already taken the 5% Pledge to support mental health in the workplace, make the commitment today.