Why workplace mental health initiatives should be more than a ‘perk’

by in Attract More Talent

Not so long ago companies could lure talent with office perks such as free lunches, a games room, or an onsite gym. In 2021, with more workers working remotely some or all of the week and the pandemic prompting us all to re-evaluate what is important, the goalposts have moved.

Employees and candidates are looking for more meaningful initiatives, including a focus on mental health and wellbeing – and they want them to be standard, not seen as perks. This Mental Health Awareness Week we look at what businesses need to change to increase their candidate attraction and how recruiters can help drive this forwards.

The past year has strained the mental health of many. Research conducted by insurer Westfield Health has shown that mental health days off rose by 10%, with over a third of employees saying that their mental health affects their productivity on a weekly basis. According to the CIPD’s Health & Wellbeing at Work Report, mental ill health is the top cause of long-term absence from work. And yet insurer Aon revealed recently that 70% of employers have no wellbeing budget and 44% aren’t offering mental health awareness training. Clearly, something has to change if employers are going to retain and attract top talent.  

What is encouraging is that many surveys, including those within the Westfield Health and Aon reports, have found that employers plan to invest in employee wellbeing. Given a rising number of candidates are taking employee wellbeing and mental health into consideration when searching for jobs, it is becoming increasingly important for businesses to address it. Glassdoor found that 58% of employees place more emphasis on employee benefits relating to physical and mental wellbeing. Investment in employee mental health – and, importantly, creating a well-rounded strategy to deliver it – is key.   

As the vaccination roll-out and the roadmap to recovery roll-out continues at pace, it is important to remember that Covid-19 will leave a longer lasting legacy in what some are calling a mental health pandemic. Helping employees work through mental health issues and preventing them from deteriorating should be something that every responsible employer feels is important. Not a ‘perk’ but a fundamental welfare issue that is fast becoming a standard expectation of companies. Not only is this the right thing to do, it is a business-critical step to ensure that employees remain productive, passionate about their work, and inspired to innovate. A happy team is motivated and more resilient. Workforce morale increases and collaborative teamwork becomes more effective.  

Wellbeing may include counselling services, access to mental health first aiders, and health programmes but it also hinges on flexible working arrangements. Many studies have found that when employees can choose their hours and where they work to fit around their needs, they are healthier, happier and more productive. The idea of flexible working becoming more commonplace was gathering momentum pre-pandemic. Wave based its Talent Matters event in February 2020 on flexible working and the impact on the recruitment industry and the WaveTrackR Recruitment Trends: Industry Insights 2020 report found that terms related to flexible working were frequently entered as keywords by jobseekers. Now it is being seen by many candidates as a prerequisite – some degree of flexibility is expected. 

What can recruiters do? Firstly have honest conversations with your clients about the expectations of post-pandemic candidates. Consider creating a wellbeing programme for candidates. Make it clear on your recruitment website that you work with employers that support wellbeing and positive mental health in the workplace and also highlight it on each job advert for such clients. Use your website to communicate your values, sending a clear message to both clients and candidates that employee wellbeing is a cornerstone of your business. Encourage your clients to promote any existing mental health policies and support on their own websites so that candidates can clearly see that they have strategies in place when they are researching prospective employers.

The upside of the past year is that mental health has never been openly talked about so much. The more conversations are had, the more it becomes normalised and the fewer people have to suffer in silence. This Mental Health Awareness Week it’s important that the recruitment industry recognises its part to play in ensuring the importance of workplace mental health. Just as they can be drivers of diversity and inclusivity, recruiters can be mental health champions, helping to make wellbeing and mental health policies and strategies commonplace within companies – and seen as standard rather than a company ‘perk’. That is a legacy to be proud of.