Local Network aims to promote better mental health at work

“It’s Not Just Big Business That Needs to Look Out for Workers’ Wellbeing” – Local Network Aims to Promote Better Mental Health at Work for everyone

For small businesses, managing a workplace wellbeing initiative can sometimes feel like an unrealistic luxury. Here, Laura McCullagh from the Leeds Mindful Employer Network, discusses how the free network can support you in building mental health into your small business strategy in a sustainable and realistic way – and how it could even be crucial to success.

Mental health difficulties at work are said to cost the UK economy around £45 billion per year, in staff turnover, reduced productivity and sickness absence. This averages to over £1,500 per employee, and even higher in certain sectors, up to £3,300.

While these figures already seem steep, they were taken from a report from 2017 – so the huge rise in mental health conditions since the pandemic is not even accounted for.

Covid is also boosting awareness of wellness at work and driving employee demands. Businesses are dealing with the shift to more remote working practices, they’re accommodating more flexible working requests, and are supporting personnel with illness or bereavement.

For small businesses – shop owners, bar and restaurant managers, hairdressers, beauticians, building contractors, the list goes on… – it could be argued that rising to the challenge of this changing landscape is an even bigger undertaking. Where a larger business might have ringfenced budget and dedicated resource for wellbeing, small business owners are often fulfilling multiple roles (Chief Exec, Chief Finance Officer, Head Administrator, etc.), as well as delivering the actual product or service.

While a big business might easily have the resource to send someone out for half a day’s training or an hour’s online webinar, a small business owner would potentially be pressing pause on paid work to accommodate this. In a post-Covid world, this is not realistic or sustainable, and wellbeing at work ends up at the bottom of the priority list.

At the Leeds Mindful Employer Network, we aim to make Leeds a beacon city for positive mental health at work. We’re funded by Leeds City Council’s Public Health, and led by Leeds Mind in partnership with local employers. Since 2013, we’ve been working with businesses large and small to offer a supportive network where we can share knowledge and best practice.

This reality faced by small business – with wellbeing falling to the bottom of the to-do list – is something we’ve seen reflected in our membership. Many of our members are larger organisations, and businesses with sufficient resource to set their minds to wellbeing at work.

This is essential to help them tackle their particular challenges – managing employee wellbeing in a workforce of dozens, hundreds or even thousands of people is no mean feat! – but we don’t want small businesses to be forgotten.

That’s why we want to invite small business owners into the network – so that they can lean on the support, skills and expertise of our network members, and offer their own in return. The peer support that our members give and receive is often reported as one of the most valuable things about being part of the network. With it being free to join, it’s a great opportunity to become part of a larger community, especially when running a small business can sometimes feel like a lonely place.

It’s really important to us that our work reflects and meets the needs of every section of our local business community. We want to make sure we provide support that is relevant, useful and considerate of the unique challenges facing different sectors and industries. If you are a business not currently involved, we invite you to join, learn about the free support we can provide, and help shape our future work.

Research has shown that there is no downside to investing in mental health at work. For every £1 spent, employers get £5 back. Even better, some of the things that can make the biggest difference won’t cost you a penny – small changes to how you work can have a huge impact on staff wellbeing.

The network can support with early intervention work, like an education piece or culture change, and also what to do when a particular employee is struggling. A big part of this is knowing about the many amazing resources and specialist services available locally and how to signpost people to them for support. We know it can feel scary to broach the subject of mental health for the first time (many are worried about “making it worse”), but the support of peers in the network can help guide you through.

Given the realities of running a small business, especially given the hardships that many have endured over the last two years, it’s really important to us to reach out to more small business owners and help them reap the benefits of a good approach to wellbeing at work. With the cost of poor mental health at work expected to rise, this is something that small businesses can ill-afford to ignore.

For more information, please visit www.leedsmind.org.uk/mindful-employer. You can also contact mindfulemployer@leedsmind.org.uk or call Leeds Mind on (0113) 305 5800 to chat about the service.


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