Why you must protect your employees mental health

Everyone can suffer poor mental health from time to time. And whether you're a franchisor or a franchisee, you must ensure your employees are given the best care

Why you must protect your employees mental health

From the moment you start reading up on mental health issues you’re struck by one inescapable truth – no one is immune. Whether you’e a franchisor, a franchisee, an employee or neither, struggling with psychological illnesses can happen to anyone. Just looking at the figures and stats make for some sombre reading. For instance, more than one in seven people have at some point experienced mental health issues in the workplace, according to a Royal College of Psychiatrists report. “It’s clear mental health issues have no boundaries in the workplace,” says Brendan Street, professional head of emotional wellbeing at Nuffield Health, the non-for-profit healthcare provider. Given the likelihood of someone in your business suffering from these problems, it’s clear franchise leaders have their roles to play when it comes to the people within their organisations. “It doesn’t matter how big or small your business is [or] what stage an employee is at in their career,” he says. “If stress and personal issues become too much, the consequences can be severe for any individual.”

Few franchisors and franchisees would be unaware of the potential human cost for people struggling with their emotional wellbeing. That’s why they can’t dodge their responsibility against the individuals in their organisations. “[It’s] ethically important for employers to uphold their duty of care to support both the physical and mental health of their staff,” says Emily Cryan, HR business partner at Cascade HR, the HR and payroll software company. From a legal standpoint, employees who can show that their conditions count as disabilities protected by the Equality Act 2010 against poor treatment from employers. But there’s far from a singular reason to take these matters seriously. “Not only is this inherently the right thing to do – it is also something that both customers and prospective employees will increasingly expect from organisations,” says Cryan. “A conscience matters.”

However, caring for employees’ emotional wellbeing isn’t just the proper thing to do as a person but it’s also the right thing to do for the company. “The risks are significant and very serious,” says Shan Hussain, health and wellness advisor, GP and author of The Big Prescription. “Aside from the obvious health issues that can arise, the financial impact can also be costly.” For instance, 84% of managers believe stress affects absences within their workplace and 22% believe it has a significant effect on why people don’t go to work, according to research from Cascade HR. On a national level, the charity Centre for Mental Health estimates that emotional wellbeing issues cost businesses £34.9bn in 2016. But the financial price from absentee staff isn’t the only risk franchisors and franchisees face by not tackling these issues “Employee unhappiness and unrest can lead to a toxic work environment that customers can become wary of, potentially reducing repeat business,” says Hussain.

Clearly, there’s a need for business leaders to take mental health issues seriously. However, they should start by treading lightly. “The first thing an employer should do is be conscious of how common, yet poorly understood mental health issues can be,” continues Street. He points out that words like depression and anxiety can have different connotations for people and can even be frightening or confusing. Indeed, almost nine out of ten people with mental health problems have seen stigma and discrimination negatively affect their lives, according to the Mental Health Foundation, the charity. “An employer should not be trying to diagnose but support and open up conversations about mental health,” he says. “Education, resources and training on the topic, including how to spot at-risk employees, can help advance awareness and understanding.”

Secondly, franchisees and franchisors should be open with employees and talk to them about their feelings and why they may be feeling bad. “The cause may not be something the employer can directly influence, of course, and the causes may be multifaceted,” says Cryan. “However, talking is important.” Looking at another Cascade HR study, 77% of people believe the support of an effective manager plays a significant part in their management of stress levels and mental wellbeing. “Conversations about mental wellness therefore need to happen,” she says.

Thirdly, business leaders should double down on efforts to create a nice working environment where everyone feels welcome. “Actively try to make sure the workplace is free of bullying and harassment,” says Street. Moreover, these initial efforts should also include a stress risk assessment. “Make sure workloads are monitored and offer flexible working opportunities whenever possible,” he says.

Finally, once these systems are in place, it’s crucial employers keep measuring the wellbeing levels of their staff. “Not only will this ensure everyone remains focused on what really matters – psychological wellness levels – it will also provide a solid business case for the need to invest in wellbeing, which will help silence any members of the senior management team who may have previously doubted its importance,” says Cryan.

While these these steps are by no means exhaustive, they should provide franchisors and franchisees with a good starting point to tackle mental health issues in their workplaces.

Eric Johansson
Eric Johansson