With high inflation hitting wallets hard, business leaders should take more direct action to protect employee mental health, writes Dr Sofia Gerbase, Clinical Psychologist at Unmind
As the cost of living crisis continues to impact us, it’s understandable that many people will feel worried or anxious about rising monthly expenses. Financial security is a basic human need, and these are understandable reactions to the economic pressures that most of us are facing at the moment.
Feeling stressed or worried can impact our ability to focus on the things that are important to us – in our personal lives and also in the workplace. If an employee is spending time at home worrying about their finances, they will likely be doing the same at their desk – which can naturally impact their ability to give their best at work.
We know there’s a strong connection between our economic environment and our mental health. For example, data collated by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute has shown that approximately two in three employees struggling financially show at least one sign of poor mental health, which in turn can impact on their functioning at work. Looking at the economic cost to employers, one report found that UK-based companies stand to lose £1,035 a year – per employee – due to poor productivity brought on by difficulties related to stress, anxiety and depression. That’s a whopping £26bn per year.
Employers can take more responsibility when it comes to supporting staff financial and mental wellbeing by taking more direct action in the workplace. But where do you start?
In the first instance, employers can work to address financial stress by committing to giving employees security over their hours and contracts; creating a financial wellbeing policy; signposting to financial advice; or offering flexible working to ease commuting costs. These initiatives can all help in the short term, however it’s key that this is built upon to ensure sustained outcomes. In an employer’s long term plan to support employee mental health, it’s important for leaders to recognise that there’s no ‘one-size fits all’ solution. A human-led approach is key (think truly listening to employee needs and co-creating solutions, rather than a tick-sheet). In the long term, a company-wide culture that champions mental health – where it’s okay to seek help and show vulnerability – is where real (and lasting) change can happen.
Businesses can strive to foster and nurture trusting and open cultures in the workplace, creating environments where employees feel fully accepted. Leaders can support this by being open about their own struggles, and managers can include wellbeing as a running agenda item during 1:1s. Above all, it’s about relating to each other as human beings.