Employers say worker wellness will be key for 2024

In a competitive labour market, at a time of full employment, employers understand that focusing on mental health in the workplace has never been so important.

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With Ireland’s childcare, housing and cost-of-living crises, the conditions are a perfect storm for workplace stress.

That’s why the need for workplace wellness is a big issue in today’s challenging times. A recent Mental Health Ireland survey found that while 39% of staff felt their workplace had strong mental health policies in place, 33% of respondents felt their company did not adhere to the policies or put them into practice.

Mental Health Ireland has introduced a new framework, ‘Wellness Works: Your Framework for Progressing Mental Health in Your Workplace.’

As the CEO of Mental Health Ireland, Martin Rogan says: “By attending to our mental health, we can avoid burnout, disengagement, absenteeism and strained relationships in the workplace.”

Work, he says, plays an important role in all of our lives. The past two years following the pandemic “have changed the world of work forever and we must embrace this new reality. In a competitive labour market, at a time of full employment, employers understand that focusing on mental health in the workplace has never been so important.”

Damien McCarthy, managing director of HR Buddy, a consultancy and recruitment company, says that a lot of people “recalibrated over the pandemic and out the other side of it. People got an opportunity to maybe slow down. The hustle and bustle culture they were caught up with was not healthy. They had to drive forward, looking for more flexible work and remote working such as working from home.

“It has been an opportunity to find a work/life balance. The question of achieving that has been going on for decades. There is such a stretched labour market now. There is an opportunity for employees to achieve added benefits outside of the number one job marker which has always been salary.”

Damien McCarthy, managing director of HR Buddy.

Companies and organisations can gain an edge by providing additional benefits that complement wellbeing initiatives in the workplace such as having employee assistance programmes with work/life flexibility and family-friendly work practices.

The Laya Healthcare Workplace Wellbeing Index findings:

  • Two in three employees say it’s important that their employer has a menopause leave policy in place.
  • Some 22% are using mental health services provided by their employer.
  • The percentage of employees struggling with substance abuse as an effect of anxiety has doubled in the last year from 7% to 14%.
  • Almost one in five female workers feel anxious all the time.

As McCarthy points out, women are still predominantly responsible for the care needs in the home. “Perhaps those pressures, in addition to their working lives, should be considered more. From a well being point of view, there is a strong movement in workplaces with regards to menopause and the need to have policies around that.”

There is training in place for the workforce “to be flexible and understanding regarding menopausal symptoms. But there needs to be a lot more work done in this area.” The training shouldn’t just be for line managers but rather, for all individuals in the workplace.

Male employees need to understand what their female menopausal colleagues are going through. Practical steps such as lowering room temperature, having a window open or relocating the female employee to a different cooler part of the office can easily be implemented.

But McCarthy points out that a lot of smaller businesses would find it difficult from a financial point of view to implement the costs of training.

“It’s not just training in areas like the menopause but across all wellbeing initiatives in the workplace. It’s within the Government’s interest to see workplace wellbeing as a public health matter.

“Investment in it brings a return to the public health purse. There is an appetite in society and among workers across the board to understand menopause better. It’s unfortunate that there isn’t something like a government rollout in this area to help workplaces to facilitate it.

“A lot of the time when there’s commentary surrounding wellbeing at work, everyone talks about what the employer should be doing. I would say we need to concentrate on what the government should be doing. Most of the wellbeing issues in workplaces are external. They’re not caused by the employers; things like financial pressures because of the cost of living.

“Childcare is a huge issue. It can lead to working parents, mostly women, leaving the workplace, even when their employer is providing flexibility for them. If you have a working mother doing school runs, collecting children from school and crèche, that is obviously taking up time. They’re allowed workplace flexibility but they’re still not achieving work/life balance because they’re getting back to their work emails at 10pm when they’re exhausted after doing dinner and helping with homework. That isn’t the employer’s fault. It’s lack of childcare resources.”

McCarthy says he feels sorry for employers, especially bosses of SMEs, having to deal with external issues.

“These are government matters. Rather than just keeping on putting legislation in to protect employees, there needs to be additional support for employers to implement good workplace initiatives.”

What country could Ireland possibly emulate in the quest for work/life balance? “A global survey done earlier in 2023 by Phoenix Health and Safety found that Denmark finished in the number one position for workplace wellbeing and balance. The country operates a 33-hour working week with 18 weeks maternity leave.”

In total, parents in Denmark get fifty-two weeks of paid parental leave. The general rule is that the mother has the right to four weeks of leave directly before the planned birth and then to a further fourteen weeks of leave after birth.

There is a movement to introduce a four-day working week as well as more public holidays and more annual leave. “The problem at the moment in this country is that there’s a labour shortage. Companies are finding it difficult to retain talent. We’re more or less at full employment. It’s difficult for organisations and companies to implement a four-day week. They’re under pressure. A lot of organisations are being cautious going into 2024. While things look good on paper, there’s an unstable mindset as to whether that is going to continue or not.”


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