The tipping point

In an increasing fast paced world, the risk of workplace behavioural health issues intensifies.

Are we now realising the impact mental health plays on workplace performance, health and safety?

Many now know that one in four adults will suffer from a mental health issue at some point in their life. Professionals in all positions may struggle with stress, dependency and various other issues in the workplace. As the world quickens and automation begins to take away some positions, there is a realization that human traits are essential for business. People are simply the greatest assist of any company and for long-term growth and success, investing in them is a necessity to ensure their wellbeing.

In the industry, chefs are often mentioned as one of the roles where health is being ‘punished’ by long hours. The concern is an accident may occur because of fatigue and depression is widely accepted as being caused by overworking. Some are calling for the end of the ‘work till you drop’ culture which exists in many busy kitchens. There is a fear in the hospitality sector that talent will either not enter the industry or leave, due to the working conditions. Changing the situation and profiling the industry as a positive place to work will help change this attitude and opinion.

Research by the Centre of Economic and Business Research commissioned by workplace absence management specialist, FirstCare, says workplace absence costs UK businesses £18bn a year. This lost productivity is an increasing trend with a number of absences related to stress and anxiety.

A fascinating part of this research also demonstrates that workplace absence has increased year-on-year since 2011 – having previously been on a downward trend since 1993. It seems right to question what has happened since 2011 to have caused this increase.

The research shows that mental health issues hit 30-40 year olds the hardest which may be as a result of increased financial pressures and a difficulty of balancing the demands of work and family. It also argued that an ageing workforce has had a significant impact with musculoskeletal issues continuing to affect mostly 50-60 year olds, and time off to recover from surgery resulting in a rise of 0.63 to 0.84 days lost per employee – the equivalent of over two years of lost productivity for an organisation employing 1000 people.

Workplace absence has increased year-on-year since 2011 – having previously been on a downward trend since 1993.

However younger generations are also adding to the rise of absence. The Millennial age group values independence and flexibility sometimes over and above salary and job security. As a result of all of these factors, the research predicts that the cost of absence will increase to £21bn in 2020, and increase to £26bn in 2030.

There are some corners arguing for technology to tackle workplace mental health issues. Companies could monitor employee absence patterns and feedback from return to work interviews to produce detailed reports and analysis which show the true picture of health and mental wellbeing of their workforce.

These insights would provide an accurate picture of the current situation and allow companies to ensure their critical wellness spending is not wasted. It may also help HR departments proactively identify employees with possible mental health challenges at an earlier stage and enable better workplace support.

Some companies are also looking to change the perception of mental health and recovery in the workplace and are introducing workplace behavioural health sessions. The training is to provide their workers with the steps to take and participates receive a certificate.  

Is there a need for a tailored approach? Based on what role a person has, what tasks they complete and what struggles they may have. Appropriate treatment for an employee’s situation could range from intervention, detox, one-to-one coaching – all aimed to support the individual towards healthy living and successful sobriety.

Greater openness is now being seen across the industry and the hope is that those who are suffering do not feel isolated, stigmatized or scared they will lose their responsibilities or job. A culture which tries to prevent mental health issues is the best way forward and many must now look to encourage this. Admitting a problem is often the first step and companies must have the structure available to support those who go through this. Looking after the workforce is a key priority, without them this industry simply wouldn’t exist.