Garbutt + Elliott
keeps mental wellbeing front of mind

By Chloe Owens, HR Manager, Garbutt + Elliott

When it comes to mental health – why, as an employer, should you care?

The answer is binary and simple: One, because you should – people matter – it’s as simple as that. The human side of caring should come above all else. But also, two, because business is business and caring for your employees makes good business sense.

Mental health and wellbeing at work is about supporting people and providing a safe environment when they need it so that they feel understood and valued. Not only that, it is also about raising awareness to help all employees maintain good mental health and to stay mentally strong. By creating a culture where people are encouraged to talk about their mental health and where both employee and employer seek solutions when needed, you create a more productive, happy and successful working environment.

Culture of fear

Research by the Mental Health awareness charity Mind, confirms that a culture of fear and silence around mental health has a huge impact on employers and is costly beyond just finances, negatively affecting both staff productivity and rates of employee turnover.

When Mind surveyed UK employees about how workplace stress had affected them, over 20% admitted to calling-in sick to avoid work, whilst 14% stated that they had actually resigned as a result of workplace stress. A further 40% had considered resigning. Additionally, some sources reveal that an incredible 70 million UK work days are lost each year due to mental health issues. London’s City Mental Health Alliance suggests that mental ill-health costs UK employers an estimated £26bn a year.

Mind research also shows that 30% of employees did not feel that they could talk openly to their line manager if they were feeling stressed, despite over half of employers stating that they would like to do more to improve staff wellbeing. However, these employers also agreed that they didn’t feel they had the right training or guidance to offer the support that they would like to provide.

HR consultancy AdviserPlus’ records of more than a quarter of a million employees show that, since 2013, 33.9% of absence days in the financial services sector have been due to mental ill-health – some of the highest industry rates in the UK.

Furthermore, research from CABA, a charity that supports chartered accountants' wellbeing, shows that 32% of employees within the sector would not tell anyone at work if they felt they were suffering from stress, anxiety or depression. CABA’s suggestion for tackling the taboo subject was simple –having the confidence to discuss mental health openly, along with the signs or symptoms around it, within the working environment. The idea is that by familiarising all staff with the topic they will be more aware and more able to assess, recognise and offer or seek support and advice.

Getting mindful about mental health

At Garbutt + Elliott we have taken strong measures to ensure that we are able to provide our staff with the support that they need and that, in turn, they feel that they can talk to colleagues and managers about issues they may have. We take the matter of mental health very seriously and over the last three years have worked to ensure we have created a positive workplace, where we are constantly striving to improve our culture around mental health.

Working with NHS initiative, Mindful Employer, we issued a survey in December 2015 and carried out accompanying interviews to benchmark our people’s perceptions of our culture and attitudes towards mental health at work. We worked closely with Mindful Employer to use the results to set a baseline for positive action and to deliver a range of ‘interventions’ to create a supportive environment and mentally-healthy workplace.

These interventions included:

  • increasing our communications about mental health in the workplace, including our quarterly newsletter and awareness-raising emails, providing information to raise employee awareness of the range and breadth of services available to support their mental health and wellbeing
  • training and introductory sessions for our staff on mental health self-awareness
  • training for manager level upwards on how to support staff mental health positively and recognise problems as they arise
  • HR attending the annual Mindful Employer conference and regular Mindful Employer networking events thereafter, to keep up to date with changes and developments in the understanding of mental health issues within the workplace
  • PR activity promoting our Mindful Employer work, to help other businesses understand the changes they can make and the importance of doing so
  • developing a Mental Health and Wellbeing policy
  • signing up to the Mindful Employer Charter and pledging to work towards putting Mindful Employer principles into daily practice.

A second series of interviews demonstrated the very reassuring results of these interventions – it was clear that the changes we had initiated over nine months had strong and positive impact:

  • staff perceptions of our culture around mental health at work improved across the board
  • all levels of employees recognised the positive change
  • overall, there was a feeling of a cultural shift within Garbutt + Elliott, where we have made a positive shift towards making mental health and wellbeing an ‘acceptable’ topic for conversation
  • a high level of respondents said that they would feel supported by line management if they disclosed a mental health issue.

‘It’s okay to not be okay’

Although a survey of 44,000 people carried out by Mind revealed that mental health issues still affect over half of all UK employees, a recent poll by the Institute of Directors found that fewer than one in five firms offered mental health training for managers. We continue to strive to improve our support for our employees and ensure that managers and leaders of all levels are offered advice and training throughout the year.

As is natural with an issue as sensitive as mental health, change is always a work in progress and our internal research established there was still some feeling that revealing mental health issues might have a negative impact on career development, while also burden colleagues with additional workloads.

At Garbutt + Elliott we are mindful of the prevailing phenomenon of presenteeism in the financial industry, where people do not stop working even when they are ill. We continue to position ourselves as a company where staff can approach more senior colleagues with their mental health issues rather than pretend to be well. We welcome rather than silence the conversation and regularly remind our people ‘it’s okay to not be okay’. Presenteeism can cost an individual greatly and, in business terms, long-term sick leave will cost a company far greater than shorter-term absenteeism. Ultimately it is possible to lose a valuable employee simply because there was no room for dialogue on mental health issues.

Pressure is a pressing challenge

The Mental Health Foundation points out that these pressures of increasingly demanding work are possibly the biggest and most pressing challenge to the mental health of the general population:

“A sizeable group of people are neglecting the factors in their lives that make them resistant or resilient to mental health problems.”

As we grow increasingly more connected through technology and social media, so it becomes increasingly difficult to separate work from our personal lives. At Garbutt + Elliott, we work hard to ensure all our employees have a healthy work/life balance. We do not encourage a highly-pressured environment where employees feel the need to stay late, thus compromising their lives outside of work. In fact, we actively encourage all staff at all levels to work within their expected hours, and have a strong flexible working culture, to enable well-balanced family lives.

Ultimately, we believe that our reputation for encouraging work/life balance and openness around mental wellbeing is making us increasingly attractive to potential employees. We already employ the top regional talent who stay with us for years – not least because we provide a supportive, friendly and pleasant working environment. With reports suggesting that offering wellbeing support can increase employee engagement and productivity by 23%, we hope that by continuing our good work on creating a collaborative, supportive and communicative working environment, we are providing the building blocks to a mentally well-balanced life.