When thinking about health & safety in the workplace, it is all too easy to focus on the physical health of employees. But recent research has highlighted the growing issue of declining mental well-being among workforces, something that has gained even more momentum due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Work-related mental ill health
In its 2019-20 report, the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) revealed some worrying results regarding mental health at work. According to its research, 51% of cases of new and long-standing work-related ill health were due to stress, depression or anxiety. This had a huge impact on business as it resulted in the loss of 17.9 million working days.
Since this report has been published, more light has been shed on the probable impact of the pandemic on our mental well-being, which is likely to result in even greater cases of work-related mental ill health.
A report by Lloyds Register, which surveyed 5,500 workers across 11 countries, revealed a stark picture during the pandemic. Indeed, it showed that 70% of the workers they questioned had experienced an increase in work-related stress between March and December 2020. This was linked to common complaints of worker shortages, which resulted in longer hours being worked and larger workloads.
The effects of long-term remote working have also taken a toll with 17% of those questioned in the survey revealing that they now felt isolated.
This decline in mental health is likely to continue for several years after the end of the pandemic. A new report by the Centre for Mental Health has suggested that there will be a five-year shadow cast over the nation’s mental health in the wake of the pandemic. Those most likely to be affected are those who have been personally touched by the crisis, such as those who had to be hospitalised, those who lost loved ones, or those who worked on the frontline during the crisis.
Their predictive model also suggests that there will be a huge gap between the demand for mental health services and its provision, with the report estimating that there will be three times the number of people needing mental health support than the current capacity of mental health services in England.
With the mental health crisis gaining momentum and a lack of services, businesses need to step up to support their workers’ mental well-being, and those with ISO 9001 and ISO 45001 could be ideally placed to begin tackling the issue.
ISOs and mental health support
ISO 45001 is the international Standard for occupational health & safety. It takes a very comprehensive view of workplace safety, which means that it can help your organisation to support your workers’ mental health as well as their physical safety.
The requirements of the ISO mean that you must identify the needs, expectations and possible hazards of your team – this includes any possible workplace stresses that could negatively impact their mental health. For example, do they work in a high-risk environment? Do staffing levels result in large workloads? Do they work in high-emotion situations?
By identifying these issues via ISO 45001’s requirements, you can then uncover the need for any mental health support and begin to set objectives and plans of how you will offer this.
Another Standard that can help you to support mental health in your workplace is ISO 9001, the Standard for quality management.
This may not be as obvious a choice as ISO 45001, but this Standard does include an emphasis on the well-being of staff.
Clause 7.4 of ISO 9001 focuses on the environment for the operation of processes. This means that you need a productive environment for staff so that they can work to the best of their ability and produce consistent quality.
Creating this environment means you need to focus on human as well as physical factors.
For instance, a calm, productive and non-discriminatory environment should be encouraged. It should also be as stress-free as possible and emotionally protective.
Benefits of looking after mental well-being
Putting measures in place to support the mental health of your team can give your business great benefits.
- Improved employee satisfaction
- Greater staff retention
- Better productivity
- Reduced number of sick days
- Improved business resilience
- Enhanced reputation
With these benefits in mind, along with the growing mental health crisis, now is the ideal time to begin assessing the mental health needs of your workplace and to put in place measures to support the well-being of your staff.