Investing in mental health makes good business sense

Richard Stuart-Turner
Wednesday, October 26, 2022

‘Once in a lifetime’ events have almost become day-to-day occurrences of late, with the pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and resulting effects including rising inflation, interest rate hikes, the spiralling cost-of-living and supply chain challenges impacting on us all.

For businesses this is hard enough to navigate, but on an individual level dealing with such unprecedented change on top of other major happenings like Brexit, a new Prime Minister, and the death of the Queen can be overwhelming, not least when combined with our own personal issues and worries, so it’s hardly surprising that more people than ever are struggling with their mental health.

For many, this was compounded by the imposed solitude of the Covid lockdowns, which meant many of our usual support networks – friends, colleagues, going to events – were cut off. 

The Independent reported in August on research from the government’s Covid-19 Rapid Survey of Adherence to Interventions and Responses (CORSAIR) study, led by University College London and King’s College London.

It found that 50%-60% of women, and 40%-50% of men in England were reporting signs of psychological distress from April 2020 to April 2022, “with that proportion unlikely to have significantly dropped given its stability throughout the pandemic”, researchers said.

This has doubled from before the pandemic, when the figures were 25%-30% for women and 20%-25% for men. The figures for England are believed to be reflective of the UK as a whole.

This report was quoted in an article written by FuturePrint co-founder Marcus Timson to support his talk at the IPIA’s Autumn Conference last month about his own mental health journey.

Meanwhile, a recent Printweek poll that asked, ‘Will your business increase mental health support for staff in light of the challenging winter ahead?’, found a huge 76% of respondents selected ‘no plans at the moment’, while 12% said they were planning to check in with staff more often and the remaining 12% said they already have robust mental health support in place.

Despite this, Timson says there are signs the industry’s approach to mental health is changing.

“I think it’s generational, because I know that our generation were brought up to just get on with it, and whatever the job, you’ve got to do it even if you’re unhappy. It’s that sort of protestant work ethic, but I think the next generation won’t do a job they don’t enjoy.”

He adds: “As an industry we’re also pretty obsessed with technology, because it’s easy to see what the value of it is, but the biggest technology that any industry has is the people, and investing in their positivity, health, and mental wellbeing leads to greater retention.

“The next generation of print are only going to want to join the industry if they have a sense of clarity of purpose, why they’re doing what they’re doing, and what the value and the meaning is.

“Just having a job won’t be enough and they’ll assume that their mental wellbeing is something that is going to be looked after,” he adds.

“It’s easy to justify making a technology investment, but make an equal investment in your people, whether that is a wellbeing strategy, or using The Printing Charity’s helpline.”

The free, confidential helpline provides practical, emotional, and financial support 365 days a year to people working in the sector and their immediate family members.

The Printing Charity chief executive Neil Lovell says the main challenge with the helpline is around actually getting people to call, “so if you’ve got something that you aren’t sure about, just call and we will talk you through it”.

“We have lots of examples of where an organisation is facing massive challenges, maybe a closure, and they’re not able to get the help to their staff as quickly as they ought or would like.”

He advises printers looking to ramp up their mental health support to implement something sooner rather than later.

“Businesses are very preoccupied right now but you can’t lose if you’ve got something in place, and you can at least then amplify it when you need to. You’d rather not have a crisis to then work out how to respond.

“A lot of organisations are putting mental health first aiders in, which is a really great initiative. It does take a bit of commitment to do that, somebody has got to spend two days to do it fully, but it’s very much worthwhile.

“And we can talk to people about initiatives that we know of. However it works in your organisation – whether it’s on a door, a sticker on your floor, or something that goes out on a payslip, if someone’s struggling and they don’t want to talk to their employers – and some people don’t like to because they feel like there’s a stigma attached to it – then talk to us because we can give them a route to support that they can’t do themselves, and where’s the downside to that?”

Lovell cautions that even an empty HR mailbox might not necessarily mean that everyone is coping.

“You don’t know the whole story of what’s happening in someone’s life, nor should you. But don’t use that as your metric because everybody won’t necessarily disclose how they’re feeling, or what’s happening at home, and the support they might need. And even if they do, you might not know how to respond.”

Work itself can contribute to poor mental health. New research from private rehab clinic Delamere titled ‘The Toxicity of Hustle Culture’ found that the manufacturing industry ranked third for workplace stress levels, behind only accommodation and food services, and health and social care industries.

55.8% of manufacturing employees reported workplace stress. Martin Preston, founder and chief executive at Delamere, says this can be caused by a number of factors, but that the job requirements play a huge role.

“For example, when it comes to the manufacturing industry, roles can often be demanding with large quotas needing to be met. Having a lot on your plate can feel daunting and may in turn lead to high stress levels in order to get the job done.

“Not only that, but manufacturing jobs can have an obscure shift pattern, meaning employees work unsociable hours, which makes it hard to spend time with loved ones. This on top of a job being physically demanding will contribute to a person’s stress levels and may make it hard to have a healthy work-life balance.”

Preston adds: “When a person is going through adverse life events such as the energy crisis or impending recession it can affect all aspects of a person’s life, including work.

“While the nature of a job that is demanding can stress workers out, additional worries of layoffs or job security will more than likely cause a person who is experiencing high levels of stress to feel it at increased levels.

“In fact, our research revealed that Google searches for the phrase ‘Will I lose my job in a recession?’ were up a worrying 138% in the last month.

“As well as this, if a person is experiencing stress outside of the workplace, it can make responsibilities at work feel unmanageable, or may interfere with a person’s performance, which in turn will contribute to their stress and anxiety levels.”

Financial worries are just one area of current concern for many people but they have become an increasingly larger worry due to recent hikes in prices for everyday necessities like food and petrol, as well as energy.

Recent government action in the form of an ‘Energy Price Guarantee’ for households that limits the price suppliers can charge customers for units of gas came as a huge relief but some printers have nevertheless stepped in with their own staff support packages to further help their workforces.

McAllister Litho Glasgow (MLG) is giving every member of staff a financial package worth £3,500 each this winter, while Seaham, County Durham-based mailing house MetroMail’s colleagues will receive a two-stage £1,000 cost-of-living payment, split between their September 2022 and February 2023 pay.

Additionally, the company’s annual pay review will be brought forward from February 2023 – its new financial year – to December 2022, meaning staff will receive a 5% increase in their base pay two months earlier than planned.

Neil Hoban, director of finance and operations at MetroMail, says the response to the announcement had been “extremely positive and has alleviated a lot of fears that our staff were having over the cost-of-living crisis”.

He adds: “Taking care of our mental health is a top priority for us at MetroMail. Some of our key wellbeing resources include Unmind, an excellent mental health platform to help colleagues understand and manage their wellbeing, and an employee assistance programme, AXA Be Supported, which gives colleagues free, confidential, and impartial access to information, guidance, resources and counselling.

“We also offer a number of wellbeing benefits including free eye tests, cycle to work, and GP services, and we plan to recruit a number of workplace mental health first aiders by the end of 2022.”

Brendan Perring, general manager of the IPIA, says its Autumn Conference was partly focused on wellbeing and mental health due to the number of people asking the IPIA team for advice on where to go for support.

“They can see their whole team is struggling, people are really tired, there’s a lot going on, and they want to know what they can do to get help,” he explains.

As well as promoting The Printing Charity’s helpline “very heavily” to its membership, the IPIA was keen to use its platform “to give business owners an envelope on which they can start to tackle wellbeing”, an issue that Perring says is still “quite taboo” in UK business, particularly in the print industry.

He agrees with FuturePrint’s Timson that looking after and investing in staff wellbeing is as essential for productivity as investment in new technology might be.

“The most important asset that a business has is its human capital, and you need to put as much emphasis and effort into the productivity of the human capital [as you do elsewhere], and a massive part of that is wellbeing and happiness.”

He concludes: “A happy team is a more productive team, it’s that simple.”  


OPINION

Liz Sebag-Montefiore, director and co founder, 10eighty

Promoting wellbeing at work increases employee engagement and that’s an opportunity that any sensible employer should cultivate.

Employee wellbeing leads to higher productivity and to tangible benefits to the bottom line. Sadly, policies that promote worker wellbeing can be resource-intensive and in challenging times limited budgets and competing priorities may mean wellbeing issues end up on the back burner. I believe that there are measurable, objective benefits to wellbeing in terms of employee productivity and organisational performance.

Wellbeing includes people’s physical and mental health. Acknowledging people as individuals, expressing appreciation, and providing flexible working are straightforward ways of making work-life balance a driver of wellbeing. The issue of psychological or mental wellbeing is a growing one. A 2016 NHS study shows that around 15% of the UK population suffers from depression or anxiety-related disorders and this would appear to be on the increase. The problem is that most managers lack training to deal with mental health issues at work, so some employees suffer in silence which affects their productivity and often colleagues around them. Business is beginning to address mental health at work but there is more to be done.

The top four drivers of wellbeing are: values-aligned and ethical behaviour; teamwork; work environment and processes; and recognition. We know that an employee’s relationship with their manager is crucial to their wellbeing; indeed, a manager’s role is to encourage an environment where employees can flourish personally and professionally.

A culture built on trust, honesty and openness affords the basis for wellbeing and engagement to flourish. Employers who pay attention to wellbeing will see the benefits in performance and profitability while creating a better workplace.


READER REACTION

How important is wellbeing to your business?

Graham Hunstone, managing director, Visual Print & Design

“It’s extremely important to us, especially after Covid, although we had systems in place prior. We offer free counselling for any staff who may have issues and we’ve now got a mental health first aider, head of marketing and business development Rachael Hunt, so staff have a confidential point of contact if they have any issues. We’ve also changed our working hours to make longer lunchtimes where we’ve introduced games – we’re trying to encourage staff to stop for an hour and get together to allow them to open up and have that bit of release.”

Stuart McLellan, sales director, Delga Press

“We understand that first and foremost we have a responsibility to our staff to make sure that everybody has got an outlet and somewhere to go to discuss their wellbeing. We’ve brought in independent financial advisors and other specialists to the business, and carried out an array of events, healthy food days and activity days – it’s all part of it. With many individuals you find that it’s pride that discourages them from opening up, they sometimes feel embarrassed or ashamed, but if you can try and break that barrier down then you’ve got half a chance.”

Janette McAllister, managing director, McAllister Litho Glasgow 

“There was an overwhelming sense of relief [when we told staff we would give them £3,500 each to help pay their fuel bills this winter]. People worry about these things and tend not to voice them too much, but afterwards individual people were saying they really appreciated it; it just takes the worry out of things. [Staff] do speak to me about what’s going on in their life, and we have things like nights out, and the guys get together for golf days – our team is a friendly bunch and do spend time together.”

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