Every year, 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem.

Currently, more than 1 in 7 adults in the UK say their mental health is currently either bad, or the worst it’s ever been.

Astonishingly, the term ‘How to reduce stress’ is searched on Google once every 10 minutes, on average.

As part of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week theme, based on moving more for our mental health, we’ve been reflecting on ways to build movement and flexibility into how we live and work. This can mean shifting our priorities and adopting good habits to take better care of our mental health and wellbeing.

 Move mental health up the agenda

Stress connected to mental health issues is the top reason for workplace absences in Britain so taking care of our mental health at work has become increasingly important.

As managers, make sure you’re asking the right questions of your teams, specifically about their workload, how they’re coping, the challenges they’re facing, the support they need and their overall wellbeing.

As a leader, you can also actively encourage a healthy work/life balance, respecting employees’ personal time and role-modelling good practice yourself to promote a positive organisational culture. This means not expecting them to be available 24/7 and staying mindful of their days off and extra-curricular commitments (more about the importance of taking annual leave later).   

Some companies are also offering additional mental health days on top of standard allowance (Thomson Reuters is one of them, offering two global paid mental health days in May and October ) and many are investing in sustained programmes of wellbeing, going beyond box-ticking measures.  

The figures below show why this is so important:

  • Mental health costs UK employers around £56 billion each year
  • Nearly 30% of UK employees left or are planning to leave their job
  • Nearly 40% of total turnover costs are now attributable to mental health issues

That last one is quite shocking. Burnout, exhaustion, mental distance from the job, insecurities, and uncertainty have intensified absenteeism, presenteeism and labour turnover.  A Deloitte report revealed that 36% of UK working adults said they had actively used tools to help them manage their mental health in the past year. And the uptake of apps, digital services, and assistance programmes looks set to continue.

This is in line with Mental Health UK’s research, that nine out of ten adults said they’d experienced high or extreme levels of stress over the past year.

And our careers are a big part of this, as a mental health study published recently revealed.

  • 14% say their careers are either bad or very bad, the worst they’ve ever been.
  • 40% would describe their jobs as good or great.
  • 24% feel neutral when it comes to their careers, describing their feelings towards them as average.
  • And just 8.5% describe their work life as excellent.

So there’s work to be done. Employers have a duty of care to their people, and everyone has the right to feel seen, safe and supported at work as well as fulfilled and motivated.

Move away from the laptop

We need to unplug and recharge. There’s a worrying trend for UK workers taking less leave – which is so important for better mental health.  Reasons given including not wanting to fall behind, the cost-of-living crisis, fear of being replaced by a bot…

We’ve blurred the lines between work and our personal lives, and this can spill over into holidays. The pressure to be productive often seems to permeate every part of our lives. So why are we getting burnt out instead of chilled out?

Victoria, our CEO, has a theory on this:

“I think it’s a mix of two things: conditioning by society to be constantly doing –  which technology has made easier by enabling us to be connected 24/7 on phones, watches, tablets and laptops – combined with our own expectations of ourselves and our perception of what work means to us on a personal level: the weight of identity that we give it in our lives. More than two-thirds of us work while we’re on leave – and nearly three quarters of us admit to feeling guilty about it.

Time out to reset, rebalance and recharge is so very important.”

When we do go away, our smartphones, watches and tablets often come with us. A healthy work/life balance can feel more elusive than ever with our array of devices keeping us connected 24/7. It’s that ‘always on’ connectivity that means lots of us find it hard to unplug from work as we rely on those same devices for work, play and leisure… and this impacts massively on our mental health. Without proper breaks, we’re less productive. Other parts of our lives suffer, and burnout can become a real possibility. According to clinical psychologist, Dr Roberta Babb, burnout is the cumulative result of unresolved and chronic stress – the biggest cause of mental health issues in the workplace.  It’s characterised by exhaustion, cynicism or detachment from your job – and reduced efficacy at work. In fact, Mental Health UK’s Burnout Report revealed that one in five working adults have needed to take time off work due to poor mental health caused by pressure or stress in the past year.

Move to smarter habits

How can we protect our mental health better at work? It starts with setting boundaries and creating good habits throughout the year.  Things like regularly blocking time out in your diary. Scheduling a walk round the block or the park.

It doesn’t have to be grand gestures or wholesale change  – it could just involve being clear about when you send, read and act on emails or saying a hard no to weekend working or travelling, for example. This helps you build a structure and set expectations for your colleagues and yourself.  

I’m interested to see whether the UK pushes through the “right to disconnect bill” – France did it first in 2016 and Australia joined in a couple of months ago.  Once workers are off the clock, they will not receive or be required to answer any work-related calls, emails or messages outside their designated working hours, including evenings, weekends, holidays without facing negative consequences.”

Eleanor Anderson, Client Relationship Director, City CV

Move towards positive change

We’ve coached people recently whose primary goal is to find a better work/life balance, actively seeking to switch careers to align with their values and priorities and alleviate their mental health issues. Career transitions can be part of a long-term strategy for overall well-being, giving you ownership and control of your life. If you’re thinking of making a change to support your mental health, now is the moment. We’re here to guide you towards a better work/life balance to help you feel better, stronger, happier and more fulfilled.

And if you’re an employer who wants to make positive changes within your organisation, we offer confidence-boosting webinars and workshops with tips and techniques to support and empower your people.

“Your mental health is more important than your career, money, other people’s opinions, that event you said you would attend, your partner’s mood and your family’s wishes, combined.”

Steven Bartlett, Entrepreneur and Host of UK’s No.1 podcast ‘Diary of a CEO’.