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How's your mental health and safety policy?

A new decade brings a 10X’d New Year resolution energy that has businesses and individuals planning for the future. And if there’s one resolution the City needs to make for the new decade, it’s to take mental health as seriously as physical health and safety.

Everything from the office lights that illuminate the City’s towers at night to those bright yellow “Caution: Wet Floor” signs is governed by health and safety law. Company directors know they’re legally obliged to make the work environment physically safe and protect employees’ physical health.

With stress levels in the City as high as the skyscrapers, it’s time mental health and safety got the same treatment.

If you think that’s a bit soft, consider your company’s bottom line – mental illness is hitting it hard.

Recent figures from Deloitte reveal that mental health problems cost UK employers up to £45 billion a year. More than half of all sick days are now caused by work-related stress, anxiety, or depression. Figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show 15.4 million work days were lost to poor mental health in 2017-18, a dramatic rise from 12.5 million in 2016.

Employers can change this. “Pressure is the new norm but stress is a preventable condition at work. The time to act is now,” says Peter Kelly, senior psychologist at HSE.

A success in the most stressed sector

Not surprisingly, the financial services sector is hit particularly hard by stress – banking employees are 44% more likely to suffer stress-related illness than other workers. One in six is living with stress, depression, or anxiety.

Thankfully, banks are starting to sit up and take notice. Andrew Rodgers, founder of Re Envisage and ex-director of wellbeing at HBSC, says: “At HSBC, we wanted to create the healthiest human system in financial services. Our former CEO John Flint recognised a healthy workforce was a productive one. He felt the organisation wasn’t achieving its potential because of an unhealthy pressure. It was a response to the ‘industry norm’ of passing pressure and urgency down the line, which can promote unhealthy adrenaline and fear.”

The CEO’s approach started conversations about mental health issues from the ground up. Rodgers worked together with leadership teams to identify and resolve unhealthy stress and create caring environments.

The kids aren’t OK with not being OK

This doesn’t just affect current employees – it’s also having an increasing impact on recruitment of the hottest young talent.

Tomorrow’s City superstars are used to being steeped in mental health awareness at school. They’ve heard everyone from rap stars and rugby players to royalty opening up about their mental health challenges. Gym membership and private health insurance aren’t going to cut it for this demographic – they expect care for their mental wellbeing too.

Yet a 2019 CIPD report found that only a third of private sector employers actually have a specific wellbeing strategy. If the other two-thirds don’t want to lose out, they’ll need to change?

How? It’s as simple as being proactive. Combat the stigma by talking regularly about mental health. Have someone responsible for wellbeing at board level. Stop treating the office as if it’s a war zone. Give employees the confidence to have supportive conversations with each other. Instead of expecting them to “toughen up”, inspire them with a sense of purpose and energy – make them feel that they’re the best, their views are valued, and they’re supported in their role.

In short, start dismantling the culture of fear and building a culture of trust. Employees will thrive – and so will your bottom line.

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