A major initiative aiming to boost economic productivity is calling on businesses across the West Midlands to prioritise their employees’ mental health after COVID-19 has put significant strain on workers’ wellbeing.
The Mental Health and Productivity Pilot (MHPP), funded by Midlands Engine, is a pan regional pilot being delivered across the Midlands and is urging employers in the region to take steps to support and improve the mental health of their workforce – and boost their bottom line at the same time with no financial cost.
A report published as part of the MHPP in November by the University of Warwick’s Enterprise Research Centre (ERC) found the COVID-19 pandemic has made the issue of mental health in the workplace even more important than ever.
MHPP’s research found workers were less likely to talk to managers about experiencing mental health problems since lockdown. New triggers to poor mental health were revealed, including furlough, furlough envy, isolation and additional home stresses. Overall, a lack of support for workplace mental health problems could reduce the overall productivity in the region by a quarter.
Even before the pandemic, one in six workers suffered because of their mental health. A report by Deloitte in early 2020 found that poor mental health results in lost productivity that costs UK businesses an estimated £45 billion per year – an increase of 16 per cent since 2017.
MHPP is leading the way towards making a step change in attitudes towards mental health in the workplace, and reducing the stigma associated with talking about mental health at work.
The three-year project will signpost employers to established initiatives that can help their employees’ mental health – no matter the size of the business – not only making their staff healthier but helping boost their productivity too.
Through MHPP, employers can also sign up to be pilot sites for trials of new workplace interventions that focus on early identification of issues and support for both employers and employees, spanning effective return to work following sickness, emotion regulation, sleep therapy and individually tailored support from a liaison worker.
MHPP is being led by Coventry University in partnership with the University of Warwick, the West Midlands Combined Authority, mental health charity Mind and the universities of Birmingham, Derby, Lincoln, Loughborough and Nottingham.
Professor Guy Daly, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education and Students) at Coventry University, said MHPP gives employers to take the first steps into improving mental health in their workplaces.
He added: “MHPP is a brilliant new initiative which points businesses in the right direction to improving their employees’ mental health.
“The cost of mental health issues to businesses is astonishing, yet many are either not aware of the scale of the problem or do not know how to go about tackling it.
“By using MHPP and the resources it provides, businesses in the West Midlands can make such a difference to the health of their employees and, therefore, their productivity too.”
Mental health has put a barrier on businesses’ productivity for some time, but the pandemic has only made the issue worse.
Employees being furloughed, having to work from home for extended periods, and having to juggle childcare with work all contributed to poorer mental health.
The pandemic also meant mental health issues emerged in workers with no previous history of illness, and that workers were less likely to admit to them due to fears over job security.
Some of these problems can be mitigated by businesses making small but important changes to the way they are run – and those that do see clear returns on investment.
Employers can easily find out what options are available to them through MHPP’s website, which provides a range of resources for them.
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of mental health charity Mind and programme Strategic Advisory Board member, said: “We know issues like stress, anxiety and depression are common in workplaces.
“Coronavirus has presented even more mental health challenges to the workforce. Whether you’re a key worker, on furlough, facing redundancy, working from a different location, juggling work and parenting, or managing a team remotely – a number of things are affecting staff wellbeing, so it’s vital employers take action.
“That’s why we’re pleased to be providing our mental health expertise as a key partner on the Mental Health & Productivity Pilot, with the aim of improving the mental health and wellbeing of those working in the Midlands.
“It’s good to see employers recognising the need to support the mental health of their staff, which is arguably more important now than ever before.
“Through our work with the programme, we’re helping increase awareness of mental health at work among both employers and staff, helping employers understand how to better support their staff and equipping employees with the tools they need to better look after themselves. We’re also working with university partners on developing and piloting new, evidence-informed mental health services.”
Any business looking to improve mental health in their workplaces should visit the MHPP website and sign up at mhpp.me/employers