A survey of 8,000 UK employees over age 16 conducted by Censuswide on behalf of healthcare charity Nuffield Health has found that two thirds (66 per cent) of adults would not feel comfortable raising a mental health or emotional wellbeing issue with their employer.
Additionally, one third of respondents said that they were offered no physical or emotional wellbeing support at all while at work – a figure which Nuffield says is concerning given that research conducted as part of its 2022 Healthier Nation Index found that a third of people had suffered from worsening mental health in the last year.
In a statement, Nuffield Health said that the data ‘highlights both a need and an opportunity to provide people with the right mental and emotional wellbeing support in UK workplaces.’
“It’s worrying to see the majority of UK employees are being left to manage mental or emotional wellbeing issues on their own in the workplace,” said Gosia Bowling, National Lead for Emotional Wellbeing at Nuffield Health. “The pandemic has affected the mental health of many employees, so it’s more important than ever that employers find ways to create inclusive and connected workplace environments where people feel supported. Not only will this help productivity, but it will also boost happiness levels.
Bowling said that as businesses continue to transition to more hybrid or remote working patterns, it is ‘critical that employers find ways to keep their employees feeling connected’ to combat feelings of loneliness.
Six key principles for combatting workplace loneliness
Bowling suggested six key principles that employers can use to create a more connected and inclusive workplace to combat poor mental health:
- Notice the signs of loneliness – including a decline in appearance and hygiene, and reduced work performance, output and social interaction in the office. Alternatively, does the individual seem to crave conversation or contact, or seem overly talkative? Bowling adds that changes in behaviour can provide openings to check in on employees’ wellbeing, as well as being indications. She advises that asking ‘how are you doing’ or offering more regular meetings to catch up on their work’ can make a big difference.
- ‘Find five with five’ – Dedicate five minutes of time to exercise or wellbeing focus – and consider spending these dedicated five minutes with at least five other colleagues to build better connections and create a more inclusive workplace. Bowling recommends initiatives such as nominating an individual to lead five minutes of group guided breathing, sharing personal ‘wins’ each day over instant messaging, or hosting a mini ‘instructor-led’ fitness circuit each week.
- Improve your communication – Employees need to feel like they are being listened to. Leaders should aim to spend at least five minutes with employees each week, practicing ‘active listening’ with the aim of ensuring genuine understanding and retention, and providing considered responses. “This means not speaking over individuals or second-guessing what they’re saying,” says Bowling. “Instead, take a back seat, listen attentively to what’s being said and show that you’ve taken it on board by repeating key phrases or asking relevant questions to demonstrate your understanding.” Employees may also consider offering Emotional Literacy Training to staff – Nuffield has found that 98 per cent of those who have completed this training found it to be beneficial.
- Improve formal support – While meaningful social interaction is important, formal wellbeing support is invaluable. Bowling recommends offering Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Employee Assistance Programmes that offer direct and confidential access to a mental health expert. Offer clear guidance and encouragement to employees on how to access the help available.
- Get fit – Employers have a key role in supporting their employees to stay physically fit and active. Arrange, or raise awareness of, physical health screenings available in the office to uncover any underlying issues. Physical and mental wellbeing is intrinsically linked - Stress, anxiety and depression capable of causing nausea, upset stomachs and headaches, while injuries, illnesses and disabilities can similarly impact employees’ moods. Encourage regular exercise in morning meetings, or offer outlets for employees to get active.
- Remember that there is no such thing as ‘one size fits all’ – No single intervention strategy works for everyone, and the key to supporting your workforce effectively is flexibility. Employers should be flexible with letting staff choosing five minutes of self-care per day, and could allow employees to stagger start and finish times, take longer lunches, or catch up on work laterin the day. Employers should also take time with each employee to chat through any concerns they have and understand their healthiest work habits.