Stress is one of those words that gets thrown around a lot. It is common for employees to experience some form of work-related stress at one point or another. However, we now understand what the effects of stress are on our personal lives and how that can impact our mental health.

Despite this awareness, business leaders continue to uphold the status quo; overlooking the level of stress among their employees in exchange for “business gains”. The latest CIPD study found a connection between stress and poor management, and also revealed that 37% of businesses have seen an increase in stress-related absences. This begs the question: are business leaders doing enough to protect employees’ mental wellbeing?

For me, a lot of existing business attitudes towards stress and wellbeing don’t make sense. By neglecting the mental health of your workers, you get a less engaged and productive workforce that simply won’t want to work for you. Business leaders are as much role models for their employees as they are leaders, so a human, authentic approach when it comes to their workers’ mental health is crucial.

Your employees look up to you - you shouldn’t look down on them

Leaders must be at the forefront when it comes to changing attitudes towards mental health in the workplace. The CIPD report makes it clear that stress at work is prevalent, and that stress can lead to a whole range of mental health conditions.

Leaders need to set an example by creating an open conversation, to ultimately determine how people view the issue. It’s our responsibility. For example, I make a conscious effort to ask my colleagues how they are feeling when in meetings. I also do my best to follow-up with them afterwards.

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This question is not about asking how they are feeling about their workload, rather how they are truly feeling. Creating an open conversation in meetings, which traditionally are viewed through a ‘business-only’ lens, will encourage these types of conversations to happen elsewhere in the company.

Leaders are in a unique position, as we can have a big personal impact on employees. As role models, leaders can create a culture of openness, which leads to a more engaged and productive workforce, strong staff relationships and, ultimately, better ideas.

Failing to look after your employees comes at a cost

Looking past the fact that supporting employees that are facing mental health challenges is simply the right thing to do, there is also a business case to be made. According to a recent report from Deloitte, it’s estimated that the total business cost of poor mental health among employees is between £33 billion and £42 billion a year. Interestingly, the numbers show that much of this cost is due to ‘presenteeism’ in the workplace.

The cultural acceptance of working long hours – often without legitimate reasons – and pervasive pressure to be ‘seen’ to be constantly working and behind a desk is without a doubt contributing to the poor mental health of workers across the UK. The CIPD report also points to this problem; 83% of businesses have observed some form of presenteeism in the last year. It’s high time that this was addressed, and business leaders are responsible for driving the cultural change.

The importance of culture in building a mental health strategy

One way of tackling mental health problems in the workplace is by creating an open environment, where your employees feel empowered to be candid about how they are truly feeling. This is a serious problem for many businesses; a report by Mind found that 48% of employees said they had experiences with mental health problems, but only half of them were speaking to their employer about it.

The benefits of a progressive work culture towards mental health are becoming more and more clear for businesses. Here at MediaCom, we’ve long been tackling the problem head-on. For example, in an attempt to alleviate stress-related problems, we have introduced a no emails after 7pm policy – so that our employees can truly have time to disconnect from work and unwind.

By creating a positive work-life balance for employees, businesses will begin to see the fruits of a happy, productive workforce.

The next steps

In an ideal world, each and every business would have the mental health of their employees as a top priority. The CIPD statistics are a stark reminder that this isn’t the case; they show just how badly businesses are failing to help their employees deal with stress.

While the conversation in general society is very much focused on being open about mental health, businesses have not yet weighed in on the issue. But they can, and they should; it’s our job to empower everyone from graduate to director to CEO feel like they can have a positive relationship with work and the impact it has on their mental health.

We must set a strong precedent for a healthy business culture. Our employees deserve it, and our businesses will be better for it.

Josh Krichefski, Chief Executive Officer, MediaCom UK

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