Stress, depression, anxiety: Is your company doing enough to support emotional wellbeing at work?

From blood pressure testing to gym membership and stop-smoking programmes, you probably offer plenty of ways to help your staff stay physically fit and well.

But what about their emotional health?

Once a taboo subject, emotional wellbeing is becoming an increasingly important issue for companies, and for good reason. According to the 2017 Mental Health in the Workplace report by the World Federation for Mental Health, one worker in five will experience an emotional health condition at some point. This currently costs an estimated USD 2.5tr per year and is expected to rise to USD 6tr by 2030.

Costs are incurred from lost productivity, including sick leave, staff turnover and presenteeism – when employees show up for work but underperform due to stress, anxiety, depression or addictions. All these conditions can affect energy as well as the ability to concentrate, make decisions, problem-solve and interact positively with colleagues and clients.

And with 85% of the UAE population – plus many workers in other parts of the Middle East and Africa – consisting of expats who are working and living away from their usual support networks, issues may be even more common.

Clearly it makes good business sense to look after the emotional wellbeing of your staff: research reveals that the average return on investment of workplace emotional health interventions is four to one.

So let’s take a look at the long-term strategies that will ensure you provide a safe, healthy and productive environment for your workforce.

Prevent stigma and encourage conversation

Employees who feel that their employer cares about their overall health and wellbeing are more likely to be motivated, engaged and loyal. So it’s important to reduce the stigma by sending a clear signal to staff that their emotional health matters and that being open about any issues will lead to support, not discrimination.

Employees who feel that their employer cares about their overall health and wellbeing are more likely to be motivated, engaged and loyal.

However, unlike a fractured wrist or eye infection, emotional health issues are not always easy to detect. Some people will attempt to push their negative feelings and thoughts to the back of their mind, while others will fail to acknowledge them at all.

Providing information on issues, risk factors, symptoms and where to get help goes a long way towards raising awareness and encouraging staff to think about their emotional wellbeing. This can be achieved by making printed resources available around the workplace, providing information in company newsletters and on the intranet, and introducing educational workshops and training.

Good communication and people-management skills go a long way to preventing stress and problems with emotional wellbeing, which is why it’s important to educate your managers on how to support anyone with emotional health issues, especially your HR managers.

The families of your employees will also benefit from a workspace where such subjects can be safely discussed. Awareness of emotional wellbeing varies in adults, and by educating your workforce on this subject this knowledge may be passed down to the employee’s children. Studies conclusively show that early acquisition of emotional skills and awareness are associated with positive youth development, healthy lifestyle behaviours and reductions in depression, violence and more. By educating and encouraging your staff, you benefit their families and the next generation.

An employee’s relationship with their direct supervisor plays a significant role in their happiness and overall satisfaction at work, so managers need to be approachable about emotional wellbeing. They should be aware of how to spot early signs and triggers of poor emotional wellbeing and how best to offer support. Regular one-to-one meetings and catch-ups are a great way of keeping in touch and will help build trust and give employees a chance to raise problems at an early stage. It is a key responsibility in the HR department of any company to stay close to their employees and understand what may be affecting them on a day-to-day basis.

Address stress promptly

Getting ahead of any issues is always key, which is why providing a stress-management course can go a long way towards helping staff to get on top of any stress-related issues before they become more serious.

Foster a healthy work-life balance by encouraging staff to take their holiday allowance, lunch breaks and to leave on time, and consider offering easily accessible relaxation techniques such as lunchtime or early-evening yoga classes and desk visits by massage therapists.

Focusing on stress makes good business sense. A 2011 report produced by the UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and UK charity Mind states that higher stress is associated with lower work satisfaction, lower levels of loyalty and a higher intention to leave the organisation.

Added to that, prolonged stress can lead to anxiety and depression, conditions strongly linked to a range of physical health problems, including back pain, headaches, fatigue, poor digestion, low immunity, insomnia and raised blood pressure.

It can also encourage unhealthy lifestyle habits, which in turn increase the risk of serious illnesses including coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and various cancers. This will not only raise costs incurred by absenteeism and presenteeism, but will also increase healthcare expenditure, in turn pushing up insurance premiums.

Provide access to professional help

Ensure your staff can access professional support if needed. This will further break down the stigma surrounding emotional health issues and encourage staff to recognise and express their concerns.

Providing online self-help tools is a good start but you may want to follow the example of several companies in the UAE, which are now offering access to free 24/7 helplines.

You could also initiate free and confidential workplace counselling by recruiting a trained counsellor on a part-time or ad hoc basis, or through investing in an employee-assistance programme that offers counselling support provision from a pool of approved counsellors.

While work-related issues, including stress, overworking, bullying and difficult colleagues can directly impact an employee’s performance, personal issues can have a similar negative impact.

While work-related issues, including stress, overworking, bullying and difficult colleagues can directly impact an employee’s performance, personal issues can have a similar negative impact. Bereavement, relationship and family difficulties, or other personal issues can all result in a lack of focus at work. It’s important that your employees feel that they can talk through their problems at work, especially if their work performance is affected.

Foster financial wellbeing

Financial worries can cause huge anxiety and be a constant source of debilitating stress that can, in turn, lead to lost productivity. A 2014 report carried out by the American Psychological Association revealed that 72% of adults felt stressed about money at least some of the time, with 22% experiencing extreme financial stress.

Helping your employees’ financial wellbeing by providing information, guidance and training tools to help them work towards monetary stability and security will help them feel more in control, easing stress and anxiety. Providing a comprehensive benefits package will also all help boost financial security, attract and retain the best talent and ultimately contribute to an enhanced bottom line.

Offer appropriate workplace adjustments

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), major causes of stress in the workplace occur when the worker has little opportunity to exercise choice or control, the demands and pressures of the job are not matched by their knowledge or ability, and when there is little support from others.

Making a few simple, practical and cost-effective workplace adjustments can make a big difference in easing pressure, such as access to training, a reallocation of certain tasks or, in individual cases, moving a workspace. When emotional health issues have been identified in an employee, it’s important to make it clear that each person will be treated as an individual and that there are always options available.

The costs of ignoring employees’ emotional wellbeing

Besides the costs directly incurred from emotional health conditions, you need to consider the impact on your wider workforce. If an employee’s emotional health problems are left unmanaged, this can have a major impact on other members of staff. Colleagues’ workloads may increase as a result of having to cover for individuals who are underperforming or need to take time off.

If an employee’s emotional health problems are left unmanaged, this can have a major impact on other members of staff.

And ultimately, not being able to access adequate support and guidance at work could raise the risk of employees having to leave their job, incurring additional costs for recruitment and training, not to mention time with an unfilled role.

Creating a healthy culture

As an employer, you can create a culture that supports your employees’ physical and emotional health. This can be done by putting policies into practice that ensure you provide good working conditions, develop health awareness, encourage open conversations about emotional wellbeing, and offer support and expert advice when employees need it.

Healthy people drive healthy businesses. By identifying and investing in emotional wellbeing in the workplace, not only will you meet your duty of care to your staff and ensure a healthy, motivated and focused workforce, but you will also save around 30% of the cost of lost production and staff turnover, according to UK charity, the Centre for Mental Health.

Trust and integrity are key drivers of engagement, and organisations that support their staff both in their physical and emotional wellbeing will reap the benefits in terms of loyalty and commitment.