Fewer than half of organisations deal with employee mental health effectively

27 July 2018 Consultancy.uk

A new study has revealed that while almost all employers agree that a happy worker is a productive worker, fewer than half of organisations feel they deal with mental health issues effectively in the workplace. The news comes as a separate survey found that only around half of UK employers actively offered help with depression, among other disorders.

The prevalence of mental illnesses in the UK remains high, with as many as one in every four individuals in Britain suffering at least one episode of some variety throughout their lives. Currently, around 8% of the population is in a state of depression – prescriptions for depression were up 46% to 57 million last year. While having a mental illness can be debilitating, negatively affecting one’s own projects as well those of others, the stigmas that society continues to project onto mental health problems are an additional barrier to recovery faced by sufferers.

In order to combat this, a number of firms have ushered in pioneering initiatives, with the professional services industry pulling together to combat the dreaded “burn-out” that has plagued the industry’s staff retention ability for decades, among other issues. This includes efforts from Grant Thornton, which signed 'Time to Change' pledge to end mental health discrimination in 2017, alongside Capita, which began providing stress reducing programmes to its clients. Unfortunately, however, much work remains to be done across the rest of the market, despite an almost universal acceptance of the importance of employee happiness among bosses.

Fully functioning and delivering real benefits

A massive 97% of business decision makers told this year’s Barnett Waddingham’s Wellbeing Agenda report that they believe employee happiness leads to higher productivity. The questionnaire conducted by OnePoll on behalf of independent actuarial, administration and consulting firm Barnett Waddingham questioned 200 HR decision makers from UK organisations, and also found that 67% of respondents think that employee wellbeing is very important to their organisation.

In terms of wellbeing strategies to address this, a 30% portion organisations with a strategy in place feel it is not achieving its full potential. As a result, some of these employers are revisiting what they have been doing, and making improvements to ensure the strategy is fit for purpose. To this end, Barnett Waddingham’s study highlights two major areas where performance could be improved.

What are your priorities within your wellbeing strategy?

Importantly, a further 79% of organisations cited mental health as a priority, and this was reflected in the portion of companies with a wellbeing strategy in place, 89% of whom include mental health as an aspect of that plan. This contrasts with a mere 2% who have no plans to include mental health in their strategy, placing the issue at the forefront of wellbeing, ahead of work life balance (86%) and financial wellbeing (only 48% focus on this, disregarding links between work stress and financial pressures). Despite this perceived importance of mental health, however, fewer than half of respondents felt they were already dealing with mental health effectively, at 47%.

According to the analysis from Barnett Waddingham, the inability of employers to tackle mental health at work could be due to the aforementioned downplaying of financial matters. With stagnant pay making it harder to make ends meet for many people, who are subsequently struggling financially despite being employed, financial education is bottom of the list of wellbeing priorities, with fewer than half of organisations including it in their overall strategy and a further quarter having no plans to include it in the near future. This reveals a sharp disconnect between workers and their employers, as another recent report by Barnett Waddingham highlighted that 56% of employees think financial education should be provided in the workplace.

Do you know the financial cost of absence for your organisation?

The study meanwhile found that 77% of respondents who are planning to build a wellbeing strategy in the near future would like to be able to calculate the cost of absence – suggesting that they don’t know, or are unsure how to. In the general sample, meanwhile, only 33% of respondents said they know the cost of absence to their company. This inability to measure the levels of certain forms of absence has likely bled into firms’ reluctance to address financial wellbeing in terms of mental health and productivity at work, as partially at least, they may simply be unaware of how large an issue it is.

Commenting on the findings, Laura Matthews, a Workplace Wellbeing Consultant at Barnett Waddingham, said, “The mental health landscape has changed so much it is almost unrecognisable. However, despite the positive themes running through these findings, 22% of organisations still don’t see mental health as a priority. For it to be taken more seriously, employers need to understand the impact it can have on a business as well as the individual. Employers need to understand their employees and this need to be driven by insights and data. Alongside equipping line managers with the right training and knowledge, a resource such as the HSE Stress Risk Assessment gives a clear framework to address stress or mental health.”

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Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

17 April 2019 Consultancy.uk

Soft skills matter in the workplace just as much as technical expertise, writes Samantha Caine, Managing Director of Business Linked Teams.

For too long technical expertise has been seen as the marker of a strong candidate for development into a sales or leadership position. Sales and leadership candidates are tasked with demonstrating a diverse and wide-ranging set of technical skills, yet their aptitude in these technical skills or ‘hard skills’ cannot signify great leadership potential. This is why a healthy balance of soft skills and technical ability is required. 

So what exactly is the difference between technical skills and soft skills? In engineering, it’s crucial to demonstrate knowledge of physics as well as a strong grasp on mathematical equations. Yet, in any industry, it’s important for leaders to be able to interact with other people effectively with soft skills like communication, empathy and adaptability. 

Business Linked Team’s 2018 study into internal leadership development revealed that 69% of large organisations are prioritising the identification and development of future leaders from within the workforce. As more and more organisations begin to invest in sales or leadership development within their existing workforces, more focus needs to be placed on ensuring the right soft skills are in place. 

With those soft skills in place throughout the workforce, the business will benefit from a wider pool of potential leaders developing under their noses, and it should be the same where sales candidates are concerned. 

It’s not just about easier access to ideal candidates for these positions without the rigmarole of recruiting from outside of the organisation. The leadership development study also found that 89% of HR decision makers say succession planning has become a top priority. Those currently serving in leadership positions can’t lead forever and the same goes for those generating sales for the business.

Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

From people leaving for new opportunities or retirement, to people simply stepping aside to focus on other areas of the business, successful leaders and salespeople require experienced and capable successors that will be ready and able to confidently step into their shoes and pick up the mantle without the business experiencing any lapse in performance.

Soft skills make stronger candidates

When it comes to the soft skills required, a strong leader must be able to manage through clear communication and effective time management, coaching and goal setting. They must be able to demonstrate empathy and empower their teams to be successful, productive and fully engaged. And beyond simply giving direction, they must also be able to take direction from those above them and cascade the business strategy down through their teams. 

A strong sales candidate must possess the ability to communicate value to the customer, negotiate well and protect margin or the ability to increase the scope of a particular sales opportunity. 

With the relevant soft skills in place, the business will benefit from increased productivity, greater agility against changing market conditions and greater transparency. In turn, this will provide visibility on issues and inefficiencies while removing opportunity for miscommunication. All of this can transform the culture of a department, improving employee satisfaction and reducing staff turnover. 

Ultimately, developing leadership or sales candidates will require the business to strike the right balance between technical skills and soft skills, and this requires an effective and sustained learning journey.

A balanced learning journey

Facilitating and supporting the development of leadership and sales is best achieved by establishing training groups. By cultivating training groups, businesses are creating talent pools that will inspire and support each other on the learning journey. However, personal goals and learning objectives must be defined for each individual based on their own existing skillsets and the skills that each individual needs to develop. 

With the emergence of e-learning, businesses recognise the value of online-based learning activities, yet many make the mistake of opting for one-size-fits-all solutions which are solely focused on self-study. A development solution will only deliver true return on investment if it combines e-learning activities with group learning activities that provide opportunity for shared experiences and support.

A blended learning solution that combines self-study and face-to-face group learning activities will aid strong development of the talent pool through shared experiences. Through these shared experiences, those undergoing the training will organically develop a support network that supports the development of the group as much as it supports the development of each individual. 

The blended learning approach is supported by one of the seven principles of human learning that socially supported interactions aid the individual development of expertise, metacognitive skills, and formation of the learner’s sense of self. The strongest opportunities for development can be unlocked by blending workshops with online activities such as virtual sessions, peer coaching, self-study, online games and business simulations. But it’s crucial to provide a blend of one-to-one and group sessions too.

Beyond delivering a better learning outcome for the employee, the blended learning approach allows organisations to adapt their training quickly and easily to shifting business demands in an ever-changing landscape.