Eamon Fox: Making work a better place

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In my most recent article for The Yorkshire Post, I talked about the importance of biophilia in the workplace. Biophilia, for those of you who don’t know the term, is our built-in affiliation, or need, to be connected with nature. Forward-thinking organisations, who are now providing their employees with these links to nature through their working environment, are often recognised as having an advantage over those which don’t.

There is a crucial link between biophilia and good mental health at work that I didn’t have time to explore properly in my previous article. If employees are feeling at ease with, or inspired by, their working environment, they are likely to be more productive. 20 years ago, had I written this, there would have been a sceptical reaction from employers.

Now mental health provision at work is at the top of the business agenda. And here’s why. One in six people of working age will experience mental ill health. With over 28 million people in work in England, this represents nearly five million people. Mental health issues are also estimated to cost the UK economy almost £35bn every year and 15.4 million working days are lost to work-related stress, depression or anxiety.

The impact of neglecting mental ill health in the workplace is two-fold: both an economic and human cost which we have the opportunity to alleviate. By investing in the physical and mental health of their staff, employers will not only unlock human potential in the workplace but reduce astronomical costs to the economy. It is imperative the Government takes notice of UK employers and the public who are standing up and calling for mental health to be regarded as important as physical health.

One of the standard bearers for mental wellbeing in the workplace in Yorkshire is Jodie Hill, the managing director of Leeds law firm Thrive. Jodie is a vocal campaigner for raising awareness of the importance of mental health at work and has launched a nationwide petition calling for every workplace to have a mental health first aider on site

It has proved extremely successful. Jodie said: “As a solicitor of quite a number of years standing, and having worked in several niche practices during my career so far, I have seen at first hand the problems that working in a stressful environment can cause. And I’m not talking about colleagues shouting at each other, or storming off when they don’t receive an immediate answer to their technical legal questions.

“What I’m referring to are the more subtle nuances in changed behaviour that a highly stressed and potentially toxic environment can instil. Issues such as dreading going into the workplace, or perhaps even feelings of worthlessness in meetings. Or maybe anxiety when carrying out your day-to-day tasks within the office.

“According to the Mental Health Charity MIND, almost eight people out of every 100 suffer from mixed anxiety and depression, while 20 people in every 100 harbour suicidal thoughts. The fact remains that workplace mental health issues cost the UK economy a huge sum of money in terms of lost production, absenteeism and work inefficiencies. In other words, it affects people in their personal lives, as well as at work.”

We should all heed Jodie’s call. The days of angry managers telling depressed or anxious staff to “shut up and get on with it” are gone. As firms strive to create the perfect physical working environment, they should never forget about their employees’ mental health.

It’s in everyone’s interests they do so.

Jodie Hill and Thrive are organising a two-day mental health first aid course at Leeds Beckett University on January 14 and January 15.

- Eamon Fox is partner at Knight Frank in Leeds