Tackling mental health in the eCommerce sector

World Mental Health Day is on 10 October. As it draws near, many organisations across all industry sectors are considering whether their approach to wellbeing, including mental health, meets the needs and expectations of their employees.

The independent review commissioned by the government in 2017 into workplace mental health (the Stevenson / Farmer review) concluded that ‘the UK faces a significant mental health challenge at work … 300,000 people with a long term mental health problem lose their jobs each year, [this is] at a much higher rate than those with physical health conditions ... [and] around 15% of people at work have symptoms of an existing mental health condition’.

The human cost to those individuals is clear. There are further costs, both emotional and financial, to fellow employees and their employer, including increased pressure on colleagues and reduced efficiency and productivity.

With good support, employees can continue to work more easily, whilst managing an underlying mental health condition, and accessing the right support or treatment at the right time can significantly improve the return to work experience for both the individual and their team.

The eCommerce sector

When thinking about mental wellbeing in the eCommerce sector, there are particular factors to consider. These include the fact that many employees work remotely, leading to increased isolation, that it is a high-pressured, fast-paced environment and that there are a higher proportion of contractors. Contractors can experience additional stress factors, such as job insecurity, and typically lack access to company medical health cover and are more likely to work anti-social hours. These factors combined with a mental health concern, can exacerbate both symptoms and recovery time.

Stevenson / Farmer

As Stevenson / Farmer state, we need to change our mind-set towards mental health, ‘accepting that we all have it and we fluctuate between thriving, struggling and being ill and possibly off work’. The immediate empathy and support individuals receive from their manager can shape the steps they take to seek help. If openness and trust are there from the start, individuals are more likely to seek early support and intervention.

Mental illness does not discriminate but access to support and care will vary. The right medical and therapeutic interventions can play a significant part in a timely diagnosis and a speedy recovery. Employers should remember that they have a duty of care towards their workers and consider what steps they can take to support mental well-being. Some initiatives will be more costly than others and it is for each organisation to determine what it can afford. But there is a lot of freely available advice for employers, by charities and others.

Creating an organisation which is alert to mental health issues and supportive of its workers will not only help the individuals affected, it will assist the organisation to support co-workers, in its commercial objectives, and to secure and retain talent.

Recommendations on next steps

Our recommendations echo those of the Stevenson / Farmer report:

  • Do your research – there are free guides from various sources, including charities such as Mind and the Mental Health Foundation.
  • Draw up a plan to support your organisation’s mental wellbeing, communicate it well and continue to review it.
  • Create mental health awareness across the organisation, through training and other initiatives, and consider accessibility for remote workers – posters on an office noticeboard won’t reach everyone.
  • Create and maintain a culture which encourages employees to speak openly about their health concerns.
  • Use senior role models to talk about their experiences of managing mental ill health or returning to work after mental health related absence.
  • Provide good working conditions. Consider the physical environment, how individuals are managed and whether their contribution is valued, getting the right work-life balance and opportunities for personal development.
  • Monitor absences and the reasons cited and be aware that people may not give accurate reasons. Investigate if there are teams with higher absence levels.

Other options include:

  • Making it clear how individuals can access employee benefits – ensuring your medical benefit provisions clearly state what mental health support is available.
  • Seek out the right external providers for mindfulness type activities, fitness and counselling or if these are not available as a benefit, make suggestions and recommendations to workers.
  • Gather anonymised data and include this in management information reports to your board.
  • Improve how people can escalate workplace concerns: there is inevitably a correlation between raising a grievance and stress / anxiety. What can be done to minimise this?
  • Create the role of wellbeing champion by asking a senior executive to be evangelical and accountable about why mental wellbeing is so important; supporting the organisation’s values, culture and commercial interest in attracting and retaining talent.