The Birmingham Economic Review 2019 is produced by City-REDI, University of Birmingham and the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, with contributions from the West Midlands Growth Company. It is an in-depth exploration of the economy of England’s second city and is a high-quality resource for organisations seeking to understand Birmingham to inform research, policy or investment decisions.
This post is featured in Chapter Two of the Birmingham Economic Review “Creating a Workforce Fit for Tomorrow“.
Life isn’t linear. Everything in the world is connected. Every action has a reaction. Some of these are immediately obvious, others are hidden from view and never known. Filmmakers have explored this theme frequently. Time travel films – as diverse as ‘Back to the Future’ and ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ – show just how much impact one small change can make.
Just as our lives are shaped and influenced by a whole host of different factors, the success of a business also depends on just as many moving parts. Every employee within an organisation has the power to make a difference, even if it’s not visible in isolation. All actions affect others – radiating outwards like ripples on a pond. The size of these ripples depends on the closeness to impact, but they go far and wide. Companies have realised that positive impact ripples through a business. That’s why they’re now willing to invest millions of pounds to try and create healthier, happier workforces.
Where lots of these strategies falter is failing to consider employees’ lives outside of the office walls. Employees don’t magically become different people when they walk through the office door. Their worries and problems come with them, like invisible weights they carry around. Most of the time these are light and unnoticeable, but sometimes these can turn into shackles, restricting an employee’s ability to perform. For employers, it’s important not to ignore these weights, but acknowledge their existence and offer help to lighten the load.
Take the example of poor mental health. A study from the Royal College of Psychiatrists found that half of UK adults with problem debt were also living with mental illness. Worrying about money can lead to mental health issues, and suffering from poor mental health can then make managing finances more difficult. In order to escape from this cycle, both factors need to be addressed. Employees who find themselves in this position need their employer to look at the full picture and provide support for both issues.
We know from our own mental health report that most employees are still reluctant to open up about a mental health issue – just 15% of UK employees would tell their line manager. On top of this, mental health issues are often masked – 42% of employees said they had called in sick citing a physical illness when in reality their absence was down to poor mental health. With so many employees masking poor mental health, it’s vital they can access confidential support on their own terms. This means employers need support that is open to all, with no barriers to access or risk of judgement.
We take a holistic approach, looking at all factors affecting an employee and searching for the cause, rather than just treating one symptom. We believe this is vital to make a lasting and constructive improvement to employee wellbeing. The development of our Employee Resilience Programme (ERP) is firmly entrenched in this ethos. It will provide employers with a solution-focused approach to wellbeing, and give employees the tools to seek the support they need. Rather than referring to just one treatment option, our ERP will involve various treatment routes, so employees are benefitting from specialist support that’s right for them.
By looking at the issue from a different perspective, we can ensure that employees are given the tools to resolve the issue, not just stick a plaster over it. This is just another way that we are developing our wellbeing approach, in order to delve into issues below the surface.
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The opinions presented here belong to the author rather than the University of Birmingham.