PARTNER INSIGHT: Climbing the career ladder is all well and good but at what cost to your physical and psychological health? Pippa Andrews, director of corporate business, at Vitality asks
On a scale of one to 10, what are your stress levels on an average day at work? Chances are they often hit at least a five - especially if you have a high-powered job. Figures from consultant Deloitte1 indicate that work-related stress accounts for up to 45% of absences due to ill health.
Stress is just one unwelcome consequence of striving to have a successful career though. Working too much can often cause problems at home. According to the Law Society2, overwork is the number one cause of divorce in Ireland.
Millions of people also put their health at risk by missing out on vital sleep, or turning to vices such as drinking or smoking to counteract the pressures of work.
So how can you encourage employees to perform to the best of their abilities, without pushing them into unhealthy lifestyle choices?
For psychologist Fiona Murden, it's about helping employees recognise when they are overstretched. "It's about knowing what's your comfort zone, what's your stretch zone - the area you need to get to in order to perform at your peak - and what's your panic zone," she said during a recent Vitality at Work podcast.
"If an athlete spends too long in their panic zone, they'll tear a ligament or break something. It's the same for mental health."
Employers can also prevent people reaching breaking point by introducing wellbeing initiatives that help employees to protect their mental health.
"It is important to support health and wellbeing at every level," said Simon Blake OBE, Chief Executive of training organisation Mental Health First Aid England.
"In my organisation, for example, we provide resources to encourage self-care, and promote health and fitness through a cycle to work scheme and free fruit."
Creating a culture of acceptance
Mental health charity Mind's research3 shows that almost 48% of employees have experienced poor mental health while at their current organisation. However, many people feel uncomfortable admitting they are struggling with mental health problems, particularly at work.
So, taking steps to eradicate discrimination and ensure employees know they can seek support is a big step in the right direction.
Francesca Baker of the Lord Mayor's Appeal, the charitable arm of the London Lord Mayor's office, said: "Recent figures from the BBC show that only about 16% of workers feel they could disclose a mental health issue to their line managers."
"Schemes that can help create a more supportive environment include the Green Ribbon campaign, with which people show their support for people struggling with poor mental health."
As some people will never want to show what they perceive as weakness in front of their colleagues, anonymous support services such as online community Big White Wall also have a crucial role to play.
More than half its employed members said they were more productive at work since signing up. Its Chief Executive Henry Jones said: "Anonymity is a key component of Big White Wall, with three in four members identifying this as an important factor."
Helping employees make healthier choices
Exercise can have such a positive impact on mental health. Doing too little is not good for you, but doing too much is not helpful either.
Vitality's annual Britain's Healthiest Workplace study suggests people with the highest and lowest Body Mass Indexes (BMIs) are more likely to have mental health issues.
Programmes such as Vitality's Active Rewards can help to encourage people to become more active by allowing them to measure their performance using tech such as an Apple Watch. According to a recent study by RAND Europe4 for Vitality, UK adults with a high BMI who signed up to the Active Rewards/Apple Watch scheme upped their activity levels by a massive 160%.
Apps that promote mindfulness have also proved successful in helping to prevent mental health problems becoming unmanageable. And wearable technology can be useful for spotting potentially damaging patterns, such as over-exercising.
"You can learn about yourself by using anything from tracking apps or an Apple Watch to a simple notepad: logging things like your sleep and why you felt down at any point in the day," Murden said.
- Encourage employees to protect their mental health by exercising, eating healthily and practising mindfulness.
- Offer anonymous support via online portals and apps.
- Support initiatives that help to break down the stigma around mental health.
Pippa Andrews is director of corporate business at VitalityHealth
1 At a tipping point? Workplace mental health and wellbeing, Deloitte, March 2017 https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/uk/Documents/public-sector/deloitte-uk-workplace-mental-health-n-wellbeing.pdf
2 Revealed: Ireland's main cause for divorce as marriage splits reach boom year levels, Irish News, Sept 2019 https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/revealed-irelands-main-cause-for-divorce-as-marriage-splits-reach-boom-year-levels-36130513.html
3 Half of workers have experienced poor mental health in current job, Mind, Sept 2018 https://www.mind.org.uk/news-campaigns/news/half-of-workers-have-experienced-poor-mental-health-in-current-job/
4 Assessing the role of incentives in promoting physical activity, RAND Corporation, Nov 2018 https://www.rand.org/randeurope/research/projects/assessment-of-incentives-and-physical-activity.html