Prioritising the wellbeing of employees has many advantages – when people feel good they are more productive, creative and motivated to do their best work. When organisations make a conscious effort to support the wellbeing of their employees this has a positive impact on many workplace outcomes including absenteeism, staff retention and attracting top talent – to name a few.
There are multiple facets of wellbeing, however mental health is shown to have the largest impact on employees. According to a 2017 Thriving at Work report, mental health difficulties are the biggest cause of sickness absence in the UK, where poor mental health costs employers in the UK between £33 billion and £42 billion a year.
Mental health impacts everyone, however it’s no secret that ethnic minorities have different experiences in comparison to the rest of the population. When we take a closer look at the mental health statistics the differences are more prevalent than first thought.
People of colour experience poorer mental health in comparison to white employees – insights drawn from the 2019 BITC Mental Health at Work report show that almost 39% of employees have experienced poor mental health where work was a contributing factor in the past year – however, for BAME employees it was almost 47%. What’s more, of those BAME employees who have experienced mental health symptoms related to work, 25% stated their ethnicity was a factor in these symptoms, compared to only 1% of those with work related symptoms who were white.
These significant disparities demonstrate how the experiences of the BAME group within the workplace may have a significant negative impact on mental health, which is often overlooked. Ethnicity plays a part in employee wellbeing.
The events of last May, the killing of George Floyd and subsequent movement for equality, have taken their toll on Black people. Witnessing a modern day lynching of someone that looks like them and the associated trauma, having to explain or answer questions about their own (often traumatic) lived experiences, and being made to do extra work without pay in attempt to improve bias in their organisations has all taken a massive toll on the mental health and wellbeing of Black colleagues in particular. In addition to this, Asian people have been dealing with racial attacks as a result of the COVID pandemic, where people have openly been using racial slurs more frequently and harassing Asian people due to ignorance associated with the virus.
Research shows that BAME employees are more likely to experience racial discrimination, harrassment and bullying within the workplace. Nearly a third of the BAME respondents in the 2019 BITC report felt that they had experienced negative workplace behaviours or outcomes in the past year due to their ethnicity. The wellbeing of BAME employees sits much lower in comparison to white employees, yet the wellbeing of employees is often looked at holistically. Wellbeing however is not one size fits all.
Some factors which contribute to mental health inequalities in the workplace for BAME employees include socio-economic inequalities. Minority groups within the UK have shown to be economically marginalised – there is a huge race employment pay gap where on average black workers get paid 8.3% less than white workers. This significant gap ultimately has an impact on wellbeing and quality of life beyond the workplace.
Another contributor is isolation at work – minority employees may feel isolated due to under-representation within their working environment. This means they may not have other people to relate to or share their experiences with; loneliness and isolation can negatively impact mental health and wellbeing. Lack of career progression and hiring biases is another factor which most of us may be familiar with. Research revealed that 9% of BAME employees felt they did not get a job or promotion due to their ethnicity compared to 1% of white employees.
Although there has been a push in recent years for organisations to eradicate unconscious bias and to create equal opportunities for all, the reality is that most unconscious bias trainings have failed to produce results and organisations still have a long way to go to developing ethnically diverse work environments where those individuals feel safe and like they belong.
We should not try to address wellbeing in our organisations in a vacuum, without acknowledging its connection to inclusion and the specific issues that people of colour face. The factors contributing to mental health inequalities can be remedied and prevented with inclusion. As human beings, we all have a need to feel like we belong and are safe – and when this doesn’t happen, it has a direct impact on our mental health and wellbeing.
Ensuring your organisation has an inclusive environment is a necessary step to take when looking at the wellbeing of your employees. Inclusive organisations foster enhanced employee wellbeing, and that’s more important than ever.