Figures suggest that a quarter of people will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives. Mental health issues currently cost the economy an estimated £105 billion every year, and they’re the most common reason for incapacity benefit claims. These statistics are staggering, and action needs to be taken to reduce the strain on the economy, and to ensure that the overall state of people’s mental health is improved. The answer could very well lie in the hands of employers.
Crucial for Wellbeing
Poor mental health among workers is costing businesses billions in lost revenue. A growing body of evidence suggests that flexible working could help ease the burden.
A 2010 conducted by Durham University found flexible working arrangements that increase work control and choice had a positive effect on a plethora of health outcomes – sleep quality, tiredness and alertness, blood pressure and mental health – as well as secondary outcomes, including a sense of community and social support within a workplace.
A study conducted by Kingston University on behalf of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that workers on flexible contracts tended to be more emotionally engaged, more satisfied with their work, more likely to speak positively about their organisation and less likely to quit.
UK mental health charity Mind highlights that flexible hours provide a “better work-life balance, a chance to avoid commuting crowds and costs, and the ability to attend medical appointments” – the latter reason being especially important for people coping with mental illness.
A New World
Flexible working arrangements were first introduced to create more family-friendly working environments. The traditional 40-hour, 5 day working week made sense in an era of single-earner households and stay-at-home mums, but it doesn’t accurately reflect the reality of how people want to live and work today”.
There is a lot of pressure on employers to conform to the demands of employees who have been granted this new-found freedom. In terms of maintaining a positive mental health outcome, it is no good if employers dictate what they deem as flexible as this contradicts the entire concept. The key is for workers to make their own decisions, rather than having a single ‘flexible’ option presented to them.
The difficulties in finding the right balance will vary from industry to industry, but once it’s been found, the results will no doubt reap huge rewards, not just regarding workers’ happiness levels, but also the increased levels of productivity that will result from this. Interestingly, the right to request flexible working was extended to all UK employees on 30th June 2014, but it doesn’t feel like enough people are aware of this. Once people realise their right to an ideal work-life balance, the burden on the economy can be lifted and productivity can swell.