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Championing mental health in the workplace: It’s not just Olympians who suffer burn out

16 August 2021

Story by
Philip Mullen, Managing director, UK and Europe at Lifeworks

Simone Biles

Simone Biles recent withdrawal from the Tokyo Olympics’ all-round competition, due to mental health concerns, has sparked worldwide discussion regarding taking time off work to focus on one’s mental wellbeing.

Biles wasn’t the only athlete to raise mental health concerns, after Britain’s Adam Peaty, who won two gold medals and a silver at the Olympics, announced he would be taking a month’s break to recover.

While the stamina and determination of those competing has been near universally applauded, it could be the conversation the athletes have started on mental health that will be Tokyo’s lasting legacy.

The reality is that most sports are as much a mental game as they are physical.

For too long these matters have been viewed as distinct, separate entities, but the two are inextricably linked.

Undoubtedly, the pandemic has made us all more aware of just how vulnerable we are, and the importance of discussions and support surrounding mental health. Whilst athletes have initiated these discussions, employers need to be doing the same.

According to recent research from Mercer Marsh Benefits, mental health deterioration was ranked as one of the top risk issues for UK employers in 2021.

While awareness of employee wellbeing and mental health issues may be increasing, just 16 percent of UK employees currently feel that their mental health is “very well supported” at work, according to the latest data.

Likewise, a staggering 42 percent of the employees want to receive more support from their employer post pandemic and 40 percent are prepared to look for a new job if this condition isn’t met.

In a year of workplace upheaval, where working from home has become the new normal, many staff were forced or felt required to work longer hours, with the average working day in UK increasing by almost 25 percent, with workers logging off at 8pm during the pandemic.

As a result, a staggering 85 percent of workers claim that they became disengaged during the pandemic and mental health-related absenteeism rose by 10 percent last year, costing UK companies £14bn.

Unless businesses provide wellbeing support to assist colleagues in dealing with these significant changes, companies are likely to face higher employee turnover, high absenteeism, and a loss in productivity.

It is important to note that it is not just working from home that has impacted employee’s mental wellbeing in the last year, some employees will have been fearful about contracting the virus, others will have been anxious about family and friends, many will have suffered bereavements during this time and other will have had fears about job security, financial concerns and returning to the workplace.

This array of issues means employers need to offer comprehensive mental and physical support, which is accessible for employees whether in the office or at home.

The rise of digital wellbeing support platforms offers the most up to date and comprehensive support on the market.

These platforms enable organizations to provide their workforce with online employee assistance programs (EAP) with simplified access to information and resources.

Digital wellbeing platforms can offer a more personalised service meaning you can have solutions tailored to you and around your schedules.

It is not just athletes that are expected to perform under pressure, these wellbeing platforms provide support and advice so you users can navigate their own hurdles.

It is essential business look into installing these schemes and recognise the benefits of supporting their employee’s total wellbeing.

Supporting employees to feel better by treating the top reasons for short-term absence faster, helps to prevent long-term conditions from arising, meaning a healthier, happier, more productive work force.

Furthermore, users have access to a range of resources from updated podcasts and audios to articles and booklets, all available to access through their mobile phone at any time, meaning instant support at a touch of a button.

Mobile support systems are accessible 24/7 meaning reduced waiting times so support can be delivered as quick as possible and as personalised as possible.

According to NHS Digital, 40 percent of patients have avoided making an appointment in the last 12 months with 20 percent choosing to do so as they were worried about burdening the NHS and another four percent doing so as they don’t have the time.

Business and wellbeing platforms therefore can help address these issues by taking some of the strain off the NHS through offering support directly to employee’s homes.

While we adjust to the new ‘normal’, we need to learn and build from the experiences and shared challenges of the pandemic.

Leaders need to be proactive and think of new ways to engage employees. With the demands of the workplace changing, it is essential business adopt more accessible and effective wellbeing resources.

The rise of these new digital platforms is driven by counsellors trained in mental health and advisors on legal and financial issues.

This programme provides staff with access to safe and confidential resources to manage stressful situations, such as managing conflict in the workplace.

This proactive approach to physical and mental health has been too often not prioritised by business leaders and has led to staff feeling unsupported.

So, while the Olympics have provided an incredible opportunity to start long overdue conversations surrounding mental health, there must be action by employers if we are to truly champion mental wellbeing.



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