By Dr Emelina Ellis, below, Chief Clinical Operations Officer, Spectrum.Life
Over the last two decades the UK’s workforce has become much more aware of mental health issues and wellbeing practices, through education and a gradual cultural shift in society. Since the onset of the pandemic and the abrupt transition to remote working, this process has been accelerated and caused many to re-think what they are doing, how they are doing it and why they are doing it.
As if dealing with the fallout from the pandemic wasn’t enough, employers all over the UK and Ireland are now faced with a new crisis – with almost half of workers planning to quit their jobs in the next 12 months, according to a recent Workhuman survey. COVID-19 dramatically changed the way we work and this has given employees the opportunity to re-evaluate what they want from their jobs and – in many cases – their current situation isn’t it. Having had a taste of freedom, employees now want more flexibility and a better work/life balance. They also want higher wages, better benefits and greater job satisfaction.
However, for many people this re-evaluation is about more than just dissatisfaction with their jobs, it stems from something much more primal. According to Klotz, “From organisational research, we know that when human beings come into contact with death and illness in their lives, it causes them to take a step back and ask existential questions, like “What gives me purpose and happiness in life, and does that match up with how I’m spending my time right now?” So, in many cases, those reflections will lead to life pivots.” When up against these sorts of motivations, if an employee wants to leave, offering them a pay rise may not cut it.
A Multitude of Contributing Factors
Much has changed in the last 12 months and since emerging from the pandemic, there have been knock-on consequences with varying degrees of severity across all sectors of society that are causing the general public to re-think their career choices, mental wellbeing and overall direction and purpose in life.
De-centralisation of the workforce, burnout, increased awareness of workplace culture and workplace best practices, and a cost-of-living crisis are all contributing factors to this mass re-evaluation amongst the UK’s workforce as to how they live and work. Allow me to explain these contributing phenomenon in detail.
Hybrid working models or the continuation of full-time remote working post-pandemic has brought with it a range of new wellbeing and mental health challenges that both employees and employers are having to navigate in real-time.
Among the challenges facing employees and employers as hybrid and fully remote working models become commonplace nationwide will be balancing employee workloads, employers encouraging their employees to avoid regularly working additional hours while working remotely, and the loss of regular in-person contact for people managers with their teams. As employers attempt to address these issues as they present themselves, many are struggling to get to grips with the core concerns and many employees feel over-worked and underappreciated.
As part of their planning and evaluation stages when accounting for any hybrid or full-time remote working arrangements, Spectrum.Life is encouraging employers to assess the current mental health supports and strategies available to their staff. Resources and benefits offered must ensure sufficient training is provided to people managers on how to support their teams without regular in person contact and evoke a sense of purpose and belonging from outside of the workplace.
Management has a vital role to play in other employee’s experiences and Spectrum.Life advise regular training to help manage employee satisfaction and reduce turnover- helping to ease pressures of the talent shortage crisis. Furthermore, management should have a level of mental health training to be able to proactively support employees working in hybrid and remote settings and help protect their wellbeing.
Spectrum.Life provide ergonomics solutions to employers for proactive and preventative healthcare. Employees working from home may not take as good care of their posture and position as they might in the physical office, so preventative measures are advised to reduce further deterioration or time off work/gaps in employment.
Over the past few decades, technology has dramatically improved how we work. Tasks that once took considerable time can now be done at the touch of a button and we can connect with our co-workers instantly. On the surface, this seems great. However the downside is the “always on” work culture it has been created. Now we are constantly contactable and, with the added pressure of COVID-19 and the resulting increase in remote working, there is literally no escape from work, even at home. Working in overdrive with no real way to relax can have massive impacts on one’s wellbeing.
The WHO describes burnout as “a syndrome which results from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Although it stems from work-related issues, burnout can affect every aspect of a person’s life, from work to family life to social interaction, and can even make them more vulnerable to illness. It is crucial for an employer to take this into consideration when developing a wellbeing strategy, as solutions offered must entail aspects of both physical and mental health to properly cater for the modern day employee’s needs.
Burnout figures have never been higher. A survey by Deloitte in the UK found that “77% of those interviewed had experienced burnout at their current job”, while a US Met Life Benefit Trends Survey reported that “burnout has increased by 25% since April 2020.”
Spectrum.Life help employees deal with stress and burnout as they take a holistic approach to mental health and help employers provide required supports across body, mind and life with a comprehensive range of supports and wellbeing services. Spectrum.Life’s market leading support can make a real tangible different to a workforce and business. For those that engaged with services, they found a 90% decrease in those reporting as severely distressed and a 43% overall increase in productivity.
Toxic Workplace Culture
Time away from the office has given employees the opportunity to evaluate their workplace environments more effectively from a distance and has resulted in many coming to the conclusion that the environment they work in is at best negatively affecting their mental health and at worst toxic.
Poor workplace culture and practices can have a negative effect on a person’s relationship with their job and their own mental health and ultimately force them to re-evaluate their positions.
This can be caused by a number of factors:
- Exclusive environment
If people aren’t treated fairly based on sexual identity, sexual orientation, gender, age, disability and race, it is a toxic environment. Everyone has the right to feel safe and be fairly represented within the workplace without discrimination or hate. People deserve the same opportunities and there should be policies and procedures in place to ensure the business and culture is inclusive to all (with consequences for noncompliance). (e.g recruitment processes, anti-discrimination/hate policies and diverse employee wellbeing offerings).
- Lack of quality communication
An employee needs the right amount of information needed to be able to do their job. Not giving enough instruction or direction contributes to a toxic environment. To promote feelings of positivity, ensure employees are given positive feedback and recognition for individual contributions. Furthermore, disrespect and the type of ‘jokes’ flying about the office will show you a lot about ‘acceptable communication’ in your place of work. Workplaces should not leave employees harbouring negative emotions.
- Bad leadership
Management styles depend on the individual. Toxic workplaces have abusive management that employees feel unable to approach or ask for direction when needed. Additionally, management that allow and continually enable workplace gossip or rumours make friendship between co-workers difficult and can cause feelings of angst and paranoia in the office. Management training is available to ensure your managers keep high quality people skills and know how to be empathetic and deal with issues such as mental health or menopause, reducing toxicity in the office.
- Low Morale
If employees seem low energy/low mood, there is an underlying issue and one could assume the workplace is toxic for employees. Work may be required to revisit workloads or business culture to ensure staff satisfaction remains optimal. Employee satisfaction surveys and population reporting will allow you to see how people are feeling (outside of ordinary conversations).
Toxic work environments can lead to stress, burnout, fatigue and other illnesses. High levels of employee sicknesses and absences can be a good indicator of toxicity as other factors such as presenteeism aren’t as easily tracked. Furthermore, high turnover rates show employees are leaving to find something better (eg better working conditions, better business culture, better management styles) elsewhere.
The cost-of-living crisis in the UK is putting additional pressure on many people to seek new career opportunities, find better paying jobs or take on additional employment. This added pressure is forcing people to re-evaluate their financial situations, jobs and spending and there are significant dangers and mental challenges associated with financial stress.
There is a clear link between mental health and money. Financial issues lead to stress and anxiety, which could lead to a long term and serious mental illness. Similarly, some people with mental illnesses may make poorer financial decisions i.e purchase on impulse or through periods of hypermania in an attempt to feel better. 4m people in the UK have both serious debt problems and a mental illness, with a further 4-6million at risk because of their financial difficulties.
Spectrum.Life suggest offering financial wellbeing benefits such as access to debt or budgeting advice or consultations with a financial advisor can help employers meet financial wellbeing needs other than/instead of increasing salaries in a time where this may not be possible if the squeeze is felt all round.
The combined toll and how it leads to re-evaluation
The reasons for re-evaluating how we live and work, like cost-of-living, burnout and de-centralisation outlined above, are all combining simultaneously to cause us to re-consider our career path and our quality of life. We are now objectively and thoroughly examining our place of employment for meaning and purpose, both within our teams and the overall company culture and ethos. We are also much more aware of our own mental wellbeing than ever before and know what makes us feel fulfilled and what doesn’t, and we are also much more likely to take action when it comes to our mental health.
Burnout, poor workplace culture, lack of mental health supports, stigma, confusing care pathways and inaccessible healthcare can cause a employees mental health to decline- meaning both employees and employers will suffer.
Burnout, for example, can cost employers as much as 8.3% of an employee’s salary. Based on the UK’s average salary, UK employers are losing roughly £2,597 for every symptomatic employee. With 77% of the UK workforce acknowledging that they’ve experienced burnout in 2021, an employer with 250 employees will bear the brunt of over £500,000 in burnout costs this year alone. Additionally, employers are absorbing costs of £12,000 on average for every employee they need to replace.
Therefore it is imperative that employers also re-evaluate their company policies and employ comprehensive mental health supports to help both their employees and themselves in terms of staff retention.
The last 24 months have been turbulent to say the least and the collective mental health of the population has rarely been as fragile as it is now, therefore people are making decisions about their life and career as we try and wrestle back some control over our futures.
Seeking our mental health advice, engaging in activities and practices that make us happy, and making career decisions based on a sense of fulfilment and purpose can help improve our mental wellbeing and is ultimately a sign of the mental health progress we are making.
To see how Spectrum.Life’s workplace wellbeing solutions can help your workforce and organisation, contact us and we will be more than happy to talk you through your tailored plan.