By Ben Booth, CEO of MaxContact
We spend a lot of our lifetime at work – about one-third of it, to be exact! – so it’s no surprise that our jobs can have a tremendous impact on our own wellbeing. The Work Happiness Score by Indeed found that only 27% of UK workers are happy at work, with nearly three quarters (72%) admitting that unhappiness at work has had a negative impact on their physical and/or mental wellbeing.
One workgroup who are experiencing increasing pressure and stress amid the ‘summer of discontent’ are contact centres workers. With factors such as the rising cost-of-living, travel delays and disruption caused by strike action heightening customer stress, customer facing employees are facing a surge in abusive and distressing calls from frustrated customers who are taking their anger out on staff.
Recently, The Royal College of Psychiatrists warned that the mental health of the nation faces a ‘threat of pandemic proportions’ as the cost-of-living soars, so supporting employees’ mental health must be a priority for every business leader.
The impact of poor mental health in the workplace
With many businesses struggling with staff shortages and rising costs, it’s easy for employee mental wellbeing to slip down the list of priorities. However, as poor mental health can impact every business, no matter the size, it’s crucial that leaders ensure it stays top of mind.
Every business depends on a healthy and productive workforce to function. Staff who are overworked, underappreciated and inadequately supported are likely to experience poor mental health and if they are left to suffer in silence businesses face increased workplace absenteeism, decreased productivity and high levels of staff turnover.
Focusing on one area which is particularly suffering, MaxContact’s Duty of Care Gap report recently discovered that 95% of contact centre agents say work-related mental wellbeing problems are making them less productive, which is costing the industry nearly £1bn every year.
Smart leaders know that businesses are only as strong as their people. Organisations should not underestimate the strain their customer facing employees have been under these past few years and the ongoing support they will require as customer frustration rises.
Excellent customer service is essential for a business to succeed, but workers who deal directly with customers are often left to juggle their own wellbeing alongside the demands of angry or frustrated customers – and it’s taking an enormous toll on their mental health. Looking again at the contact centre industry, our recent report shows that staff are experiencing high levels of stress (62%) and over half (52%) would be open to considering a new job in a different industry if it meant less of an impact on their mental wellbeing. On the other hand, the overwhelming majority (75%) said that they would actually stay in their current role if their employer made a concrete commitment to improving mental wellbeing in the workplace.
Businesses can no longer be complacent. Poor mental wellbeing is having a detrimental impact on today’s workforce and it’s now more important than ever to move employee mental health to the top of the to do list.
Tackling the employee mental health crisis
According to research from YouGov, the stigma associated with mental health is still prevalent as two-thirds of UK workers who have taken time off work for mental health felt as they though needed to conceal the reason why.
The onus is on business leaders to break the stigma by building an open and supportive working environment that actively champions the wellbeing of workers.
To do this, it’s vital that businesses transform their working practices to ensure that the wellbeing of all staff members, especially those on frontline dealing with customers, is at the heart of everything they do. It’s no longer enough to simply say that you support mental health. Businesses need smart, concrete solutions.
Fostering a culture where employees feel comfortable and confident enough to set boundaries, prioritise self-care and take regular breaks between calls or busy periods makes a huge difference in alleviating some of the pressure that can contribute to poor mental health.
Dr Andres Fonseca, Consultant Psychiatrist and Co-Founder at leading mental health care organisation Thrive: Mental Wellbeing, emphasises the importance of establishing a supportive working environment, saying, “It is vital that we equip all employees, but especially those in frontline roles, with the necessary tools and techniques to effectively manage challenging conversations. With more focus on the cost-of-living crisis, it is also imperative that we continue to open up the conversation around mental health and raise more awareness of the connection between physical and mental wellbeing while ensuring that everyone across the workplace knows that they are valued and supported.”
Businesses have a duty of care to their employees, and this not only extends to an employee’s physical health, but also their mental health. Frequently checking in with team members and implementing mental health first aiders are steps in the right direction, especially as employees continue to face economic uncertainty as well as their own personal struggles.
Investing in technology is another way to boost employee mental health and increase job satisfaction by easing burdensome tasks. Automating responses to basic queries and repetitive workloads can significantly protect employees from frustration and burnout and allows them to focus on high-level, meaningful interactions that displays their value to the business.
As the battle for talent continues, looking after employee mental wellbeing is the key to success. By putting employee wellbeing first, recognising all the hard work that staff do day in and day out and providing clear routes for career progression, workers will feel more supported and engaged in their roles – and a happier, healthier workforce means happy, satisfied customers.