We spend about 260 days at work per year. While we’d like to bring our whole self every day, even the most ambitious people can't be at hundred percent all the time. How do we mitigate that pressure, and help our coworkers and ourselves get back to being our best, personally and professionally?
I had the pleasure of speaking with George Stokes, the Content Lead at Unmind, to discuss the global impact of poor mental health in the workplace. Unmind is a platform that specializes in mental well-being in the workspace. They provide science-backed tools and content to help people with the issues they face and tackle the stigma surrounding mental health issues.
It’s really interesting and exciting to look at the space Unmind’s in and most importantly see the impact it can have on mental health, not just in the workplace, but just in general as we go through our lives. I was chuffed to bits to be talking about this topic in an open format and wanted to share some of the insights.
Why is it important to talk about mental health in the workplace?
More than half of workers are stressed in U.S. and Canada
Finn: Gallup did a report in 2022 on the state of workers, which found stress amongst global workers is at an all-time high. In one study, it showed that 52% of U.S. and Canadian workers reported feeling stressed daily, compared to the 39% of Europeans reporting the same amount of stress. This is a massive workplace problem around the world.
Managers have a huge impact on mental health
George: Forbes reported that for almost 70% of people, their manager has more impact on their mental health than their therapist or doctor. By accounting for topics such as neurodiversity, flexible working hours, therapy, and mental well-being apps like Unmind, companies are starting to notice positive change in performance and well-being because they are linked.
A lot of our content is manager focused: How to deal with performance issues, how to have real conversations about money worries, and how managers can help and support their whole team as much as possible.
Is there a business case for mental well-being in the workplace?
Finn: Mental health in the workplace isn't always at the forefront of an organization's priorities and sometimes mental health can be treated as a rather taboo or a private topic that either should be dealt with at home or behind closed doors. How would you persuade employers to invest in employee wellness and bring mental health to the front of business priorities?
George: If people at work feel comfortable, statistically, their performance at work will improve as well. I can give you an example based on some academic estimates from Deloitte. If a business in the UK has 50 employees, on average, eight of those employees struggle with mental health issues. That would mean statistically around 215 days are lost every year due to work-related ill mental health. It would also mean that the annual cost of mental ill health for this company with around 50 employees is on average 65,000 pounds per year.
Businesses are starting to recognize that this isn't a personal problem, it's a business problem as well. The data is there and we have all these statistics on our website. But even without the data, I feel like anyone can use themself as an example. If you're feeling happy and you're smiling, you're probably going to have a good day at work. And it's about nourishing that and really getting employees to flourish.
Finn: I fully agree. I think that happy people are more engaged. They're more productive. They're happier in the workplace. They tend to work for you longer. And generally create a better vibe.
What are some effective ways businesses can help?
George shared some practices they use to support employees at Unmind.
Encourage open conversation
Many studies suggest that the best action you can take to improve mental health is to just talk. It sounds so simple, but a lot of us don't do it. Businesses can help by encouraging those open conversations.
Schedule weekly well-being check-ins
At Unmind, we have a weekly check-in with our managers where we measure general well-being. It's not just work-focused but more like mentally focused to check in and see if we're feeling okay. So, we have that which people here find helpful.
Make therapy accessible
Technology can help, but some people may need and want to have a conversation with an actual person. Unmind offers Unmind Talk where users have access to therapists who specialize in all sorts of issues.
Find and support well-being champions
Some companies, including Unmind, have a group of well-being champions who come up with initiatives to help people. It’s a fantastic way for employees to help each other. People at any level of an organization can become well-being champions and Unmind offers a course to help them get started.
George: Flexible work is so important as well. You can't say, “Bring your whole self to work,” and then say, “But we don't do flexible work.” You might think at 4 p.m., “I'm not feeling it today. Can I make up these hours tomorrow or next week?” And if you have a flexible manager, then they should be fine. It's just about being honest.
Finn: It's a good point. It's a humbling but also deeply respectful thing to really check in every day and say, can I bring my full self? And what are the ways that I can mitigate that?
What does it mean to bring your whole self to work?
Finn: Creating inclusive and safe workplaces where people are free to contribute ideas free to challenge the status quo, and ultimately have that creative harnessing to do their best work. For a lot of people that comes in different ways, so being openly flexible is more important than ever, especially if we want to lower this very high number of 52% of workers who are stressed.
George: It means being honest with your coworkers and your manager, if you're having a day where you just don't feel right and it’s not physical. Something may have happened in your personal life or your work life, and you just don't feel like you can perform. Have that chat with your manager and just say, I'm not feeling it today. I don't know why, I'm just not, to be honest. At my previous jobs I hadn't done that, but I know I can, here. I feel this makes my performance actually increase.
What role does technology play in alleviating the stress of the global workforce?
Finn: Technology impacts all of us. What role do you think technology plays in alleviating the stress of the global workforce?
George: Our mission is a big one and tech is vital for that. Our main goal isn't to get people to consume as much content as possible or to get as many people on the app as possible and have them use it all day. Our main goal is to live in a world where mental health is nurtured and understood.
So our app offers tools on how to nurture your mental health, like how to eat well, how to focus on your grieving, and how to tackle more workplace-specific issues that we all face. We want people to check Unmind for as long as they need or want to. If they want to complete a course, that's great. If they want to listen to one of our sleep stories at night, that's great as well. If they want to listen to our daily boost in the morning just to give them a little pick-me-up, then that's great too.
Content with a purpose
Content plays a vital role. To engage clients, we need to have good content. So we have many different pieces of content. We have courses, we have shorts, and we have real stories as well. We also deliver our own webinars, which are hosted by our science team where we make the content interactive.
We have clients who have employees from all over the world. So, it's important that we localize our content. We serve content in English, German, Chinese, French, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, and hopefully more in the future as well. It's a big project.
Are we making progress on mental health in the workplace?
George: I think, as of today, we are in such a good space compared to even where we were five years ago. Look at the change in mental well-being and how it's understood and celebrated, and even mentioned in the media. The conversation now compared to five years ago and especially ten years ago and twenty years ago, it's so different.
I think there is a stigma that we need to break for sure. Particularly around issues that everyone faces. At the moment, we focus on content such as the cost-of-living crisis, addiction, depression, and anxiety. There are so many topics that do have stigma around them, and it's really important to break those. We've come so far, but to be honest, we're probably not even halfway to where we actually want to be — where we can all turn up to work and just feel confident in ourselves and bring our best self to work.
Finn: This extends beyond you and I. It extends to the people around us and the role that we can play in making their days and lives better. We're all in this together. So let's come together and bring this to light more often.