Header Contact

What our attitude to holidays says about employee mental health

I was struck by a recent conversation on LinkedIn on the topic of holidays in relation to employee mental health. The rise in remote working is clearly making it harder for people to put up clear boundaries.

Usually a popular workplace topic – this year holidays have been complicated by all sorts of judgments including the decision to stay put or go away. Anecdotally, many people are continuing to check email or join meetings while they are on leave at home. It’s yet another example of how the current climate is impacting on our work-life balance.

CIPD research has found that unhealthy practices such as “e-presenteeism” (employees feel the need to work when unwell) and “leaveism” (employees continue to work while on leave or take annual leave instead of sick leave) are increasing. This trend, compounded by worries about job security and workload, often leads to illness, fatigue and loss of productivity.

Pandemic burnout

In a recent survey, half of managers in the UK thought their staff could be at the risk of burnout as a result of the changes to working patterns in the wake of the pandemic. Another poll revealed nearly half (46 per cent) of Brits working remotely during lockdown reported felt more pressure to be ‘present’, with just over a third (35 per cent) saying they had continued to work despite feeling unwell.

In reality, this shift in attitudes and behaviours in our working lives has been building for some time. CIPD’s annual Mental Health and Wellbeing report says nine out of 10 people professionals have observed presenteeism in their organisations. Nearly three quarters have observed some form of leaveism. It suggests management style and heavy workload are still the biggest causes of stress in 2020. If so, then what strategic decisions are being taken to support leaders involved in managing workers’ wellbeing?

Leaving managers to handle a complex and increasingly complicated set of expectations is hard and made harder with the additional pressures of remote working. Without proper support, guidance and education, not only are their teams at risk but their own health and wellbeing could be too.

L&D leaders are well placed to provide a proactive strategy

Let’s put the business case first. Earlier this year Deloitte released some analysis on the cost of poor mental health to UK employers at £45bn a year – a rise of 16% since 2016. More positively, the same report found that for every £1 invested in mental health interventions, employers would receive £5 back in reduced absenteeism, presenteeism and staff turnover.

The short term goals of mental health management

In the short term, the most immediate goal is to make managers and individuals aware of stress related issues.  This helps to detect some of the early warning signs around behaviour and attitudes. Start by checking in with managers and their teams about how they are communicating around workload management and employee wellbeing. This is where you can see where further training may be of benefit. Make it the norm for wellbeing to be an accepted part of people management.

This exercise is a useful way of checking how individual management styles are affecting different groups. If there’s an “always-on” culture in one department for example, then start by highlighting what this sort of behaviour is, why it’s a risk, and how to spot the signs of burnout or stress.

Improve or change strategy in the light of work pattern changes

A wellbeing strategy is no longer about fruit Fridays and yoga classes. Discussions around mental health are increasingly commonplace. Employees are likely to be more knowledgeable about the issue than you imagine.

Wellbeing and health prevention need to be embraced from the boardroom down. It needs many champions to ensure the strategy remains on the agenda and the direction of travel measurable.

Think about developing (if not already done so) some sort of mental health framework as part of the strategy.

This outlines the issues identified and the core competencies and skills required to provide appropriate services in your workplace.

Data collection and analysis of employee wellbeing, alongside absence, sickness, presenteeism and leaveism rates will inform this framework. Use it to explore some of the common threads or themes coming up in conversations.

As the CIPD study reveals, there are still many holes in how employers assist their managers in playing a positive role in the wellbeing of their teams.

In a recent article citing a case study on Deutsche Bank’s mental health framework, the lead behind the initiative, Andy Ward, explained how many different components contribute to its success. These include adoption by the senior team, employee ownership and the regular sharing of best practice between mental health first aiders.  Training is used to bolster people’s roles where necessary.

Back from hols – what’s your resolution?

So if you’ve just come back to work from your holiday, pay close attention to your colleagues and their experiences.  The warning signs might already be there. Don’t put off implementing a prevention and management strategy before it’s too late.

BiteSize Learning provides a wide range of mental health training programmes for all levels. For more information please get in touch.

Comments are closed.