Today in the UK, there’s a bigger focus on mental health than ever before. Government investment is going up, the stigma around it is going down, and conversations about mental wellbeing are taking place across the media. Indeed, just recently Prince Harry spoke of how his mother’s death affected his mental state, both privately and at work. At the same time, the Telegraph has launched a new mental health focused podcast. And people across the country are being encouraged to speak out about the topic.
But there’s still a lot to be done. According to new research from mental health charity Mind[i], for more than one in four employees describing their mental state as “poor”, the cause isn’t anything as life-altering as a family bereavement – it’s work. And recent Fellowes research into the link between workplace health and activity agrees, finding that sedentary working is the underlying cause of a series of health issues.
Unfortunately, employers have been slow to recognise this. A concerning number believe their staff are perfectly comfortable having mental health conversations at work, but the reality is that few actually feel they can talk to a manager about issues around mental illness. While, many employees feel they’re being put under unacceptably high levels of pressure at work, with some even dealing with anger issues.
The Prince himself touched on this during his revelatory podcast[ii], before going onto how physical activity proved to be the core outlet for his frustration.
“Everyone was saying boxing is good for you and it’s a really good way of letting out aggression,” he told the Telegraph’s Bryony Gordon. “That really saved me because I was on the verge of punching someone, so being able to punch someone who had pads was certainly easier.”
Although important, the link between the physical and the mental isn’t exactly new. Science has long known that physical activity offers myriad benefits. The largest ever study of its kind from Cambridge and Essex universities shows that the frequency with which people move throughout the day, even if that movement is not rigorous exercise, is associated with both physical health and happiness[iii]. And Fellowes’ research[iv] shows that movement in the workplace can lead to holistic health benefits for employees, tackling everything from a bad back to fatigue.
The message is clear: it’s imperative that we stay active, and according to our findings, most workers want to be more active in the workplace.
However, the problem remains. We’re often most at risk of sedentary behaviour for extended periods when we’re sitting down at work. Which is bad for workers and for the business. Mental health is now the largest cause of absenteeism in the UK, with more than 15 million absence days attributed to stress, anxiety and depression in 2013[v]. And it accounts for a significant percentage of presenteeism, too. In 2014, research from the OECD group of developed economies found that, in total, mental illness costs the UK about £70bn a year, or 4.5% of gross domestic product[vi].
It sounds like a problem too big to tackle. But the reality is that small bursts of activity can do a lot to combat the cause and effect of mental health issues. Something as simple as sending a document to the printer furthest away can literally start a movement.
Some progressive companies understand this, and are embracing the trend of offering employees the option to stand while they work. They understand that it will directly contribute to the holistic health of their employees, and boost their business in the process. With 71% of managers of the belief that their staff would be happier with Sit-Stand working, and 81% of senior managers and 84% of HR managers thinking that Sit-Stand solutions are likely to benefit those even with pre-existing health conditions, they know the time to change is now.
Join the workplace wellbeing movement by downloading our A Little Movement For Big Success 2017 paper. Be a part of the mental wellbeing conversation with Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK (May 8-14).