When it comes to mental health, preventative measures are those we put in place to try and keep ourselves/our teams well. And so, in proactively striving to improve our wellbeing, we reduce the risk of exacerbating our mental health and becoming unwell. Essentially, we are preventing a problem before it becomes a problem.
Preventative mental health initiatives might include holding workshops on wellbeing topics like stress management or avoiding burnout, or hosting a mindfulness course or regular meditation sessions. These initiatives aim to provide employees with the tools to better understand their thoughts and emotions, as well as encouraging them to carve out a bit of time in the working-day to reset and focus entirely on their wellbeing.
It is no secret that our work lives (and often, our home lives!) can come with a certain amount of stress. And, without the tools to manage it effectively, this stress can pile up, impacting negatively on our mental health and eventually causing burnout. For those who live with mental illness, this build-up of stress can be a trigger for an extreme episode of poor mental health. Preventative mental health measures aim to give employees certain tools and strategies to help them better deal with the stress (or even distress) that can be a biproduct of work.
Of course, 'reactive' strategies - initiatives that look to fix problems as and when they come up - also have an important place in a wellbeing programme. At-work counselling, for example, can provide a safe, non-judgemental environment for staff who many need some dedicated support as part of a recovery journey.
But as reactive measures usually come into play at the point where employee-mental health has already deteriorated, these measures (when applied in isolation) can be seen as somewhat of a ‘sticking plaster’ for potentially larger problems. Reactive solutions fail to respond to systemic issues. They fail to improve staff morale, engagement, or productivity. And they do nothing push an organisation’s wellbeing agenda forward.
There needs to be both preventative and reactive measure in place to get the best results.
Some companies have managed to do this incredibly successfully – with their strategies paying-off in terms of a reduction in sick days and staff turnover.
For example, high-street retailer, HOBBS, introduced a wellbeing programme back in 2018, and subsequently saw employee satisfaction and engagement increase. In turn, they reported an uptick in profits. Some of their preventative measures included a flexible work policy and a social activities calendar run by the employees themselves.
Speaking generally, there are many different factors that influence our mental health. These include, but are not limited to, genetic and hereditary factors, socioeconomic and cultural heritage, experiences in childhood, lifestyle and personal circumstances, social and community networks, and living conditions/environment.
Our work can crossover with a number of these factors and can therefore influence our mental health in significant ways. This might be through fraught relationships with our colleagues, stress from overwork, feelings of imposter syndrome etc.
And this is exactly why mental health education at work is so important – with good mental health education managers and individuals are much more likely to spot the signs of someone struggling with some of the factors above, and enable them to provide support before the issue reaches crisis-point. Companies have a great deal of power and influence over their employees’ mental health, and if they invest in it, they will see noticeable results, both in terms of staff morale, wellbeing, and business growth.
Initiatives and resources, such as providing flexible working hours, quieter workspaces, social events, resilience training, learning how to deal with stress and anxiety, regular check-ins and support sessions (the list goes on) can really help, both in preventing mental illness and helping employees that already live with a pre-existing condition.
Companies can also educate employees and executives on how to take care of their own mental health; such as taking enough time to rest, ensuring that we exercise, and having clear boundaries.
Companies have a moral (and, indeed, legal) requirement to look after their employees' wellbeing. Organisations have a formalised ‘duty of care’ towards their staff… plus, looking after them is simply the right thing to do.
It makes financial sense too. Yes, mental health prevention requires budget to be carved out. But, as we’ve all heard, “prevention is better than cure” – and, long-term, saves money too.
There is robust evidence to suggest that if you offer employee wellbeing programmes, you will see a financial return from doing so, especially if that spending comes in the form of preventative strategies which (studies have shown) offer the biggest returns.
Latest figures show that poor mental health costs employers between £33 billion and £42 billion in sick leave, lost productivity due to illness, re-training needs and workplace adjustments required, recruitment fees to replace employees unable to work, and
time lost for replacing staff and training new employees. This amounts to a cost per employee of between £1,205 and £1,560 per year (this figure is for all employees, not just those who are ill). Even if a wellbeing strategy can save your organisation a fraction of this amount, it's worth the cost.
According to Deloitte, the ROI for mental health interventions was 4:1. So, on average, for every £1 a company spent, it saved £4.20. This figure was up to 6:1 for preventative measures, such as line manager training and health coaching. One study, published in The Lancet, showed as high as a 9:1 ROI on proactive mental health training in the Australian Fire Service!
Introducing preventative strategies makes both ethical and business sense: it goes towards creating a positive workplace culture, helps employees feel valued and safe, and future-proofs wellbeing at your organisation.
And, what's clear to see is that employees invest more in their work and in their employer when their employer invests in them.
If you'd like to learn more about how Luminate can support you with your workplace wellbeing strategy, get in touch here.