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Mental health - what you can do as an SME leader?

I am the founder of Healthy Nibbles. We work with large corporates to develop wellness strategies, with a focus on employee nutrition. As Healthy Nibbles has grown, I find myself surrounded by a very passionate, enthusiastic and hard-working team of young professionals.  Working in this sector, mental health is a frequently discussed topic in office conversations. However, too often the mental health message is focused on large organisations, despite there being 5.7 million SMEs in the UK in 2017, representing over 99% of all businesses. So as the leader of an SME, what steps can you take to support the mental health of your employees?

Acknowledge the Extent of Mental Health

The first step is the most important; understand the extent and impact of mental health problems within the UK. Approximately a quarter of all people in the UK will experience a mental health problem every year, according to mental health charity Mind; meaning that you are likely to have at least one member of your team trying to find a way to manage a problem.

Furthermore, as work is now the most stressful thing in people’s lives, according to a poll by mental health charity Mind, leaders must find ways to be part of the solution, not the cause of a problem.

Banish the Stigma 

The biggest barrier facing businesses is the way we see mental health. Employees are afraid of discussing the issue with others in case they lose their jobs or are judged. A huge 85 per cent of workers feel there is a stigma attached to mental health issues in the workplace. Even in the safest environment, it is still uncommon for employees to be direct with their employer or co-workers about mental health issues. A study by Mind found that 60 per cent of employees would feel more motivated if their employer showed support for their wellbeing.

Business leaders must champion mental health awareness from the top down. They need to send out a clear signal that mental health matters. The stigma won’t go unless business leaders address it, normalise it and support it.

Create a Healthy Environment

There are many factors that contribute to the development of mental illness, however, it is widely acknowledged that the environment plays a significant role. It’s important for employers to take a look at the lifestyle they’re promoting among workers. Expecting employees to work 80 hours a week or insisting people respond to work-related email from home are just a few of the things that can interfere with an employee’s ability to build a natural buffer against workplace stress.

Since most people spend approximately one-third of their time at work, it's important to ensure the workplace takes steps to promote good health. There are many inexpensive ways this can be achieved.

At Healthy Nibbles, we provide medical insurance that encourages active engagement in managing wellness, providing a range of personalised rewards for employees who regularly exercise, eat well and get regular health checks. Earlier this year, we implemented ‘One Small Thing’ enabling employees to take an hour off once a month, without the need to provide a reason. In addition, a weekly team meeting provides an opportunity for employees to voice both achievements and concerns. We also ensure that healthy snacks and drinks are on site as good nutritional can play a significant role in mental wellbeing.

Spot the warning signs 

According to research by PwC, more than a third of the UK workforce is experiencing anxiety, depression or stress. Employers need to develop their ability to spot early signs of mental health problems. From changes in behaviour to acting withdrawn or unable to cope with daily tasks, employers should notice if someone is struggling. One way to support employees in this area is being open to allowing a ‘mental health sick day’. One in five (19%) people have called in to work due to stress. But interestingly, of those people, the vast majority (over 90%, in fact) told their employers totally different reasons. This is not ok, it is time to normalise mental health as a normal health issue.

Facilitating Support

As the leader of an SME, you don’t need to become an expert in mental health, but you should be able to offer the right support. Understanding that mental health issues are very treatable and finding way to support employees in their attempts to seek help is essential.

Gestures such as providing external financial advice to help manage day-to-day living costs, providing access to confidential mental health screenings, or allowing an employee to attend weekly therapy appointments during business hours whilst encouraging an end to unhealthy habits like working late nights and weekends, can all help. 

Use this blog as the push you need to open up dialogue in your business. Offer to put the kettle on and take a few minutes to have a chat and show you care.