Mental Health in the Workplace

Poor mental health is not unusual, in fact it’s a normal part of the lived experience. Overall, one in five employees (20%) have experienced mental health issues in the last month. Yet it is all too often seen as something different, something to be avoided and at times, something other worldly. All too often the discussion around mental health is framed as a deficit, we think about it in terms of what people can’t do rather than what they can.

According to a recent Business in the Community Study (Business in the community Mental Health at Work Report 2017) three out every five employees (60%) have experienced mental health issues in the past year because of work. Almost a third (31%) of the workforce have been formally diagnosed with a mental health issue (29% in 2016). Sickness absence: Mental health is one of the greatest causes of sickness absence in the UK. While the overall rate of sickness absence has fallen by 15%-20% since 2009, absence due to mental health reasons in this period has actually risen by around 5%.  While more people are comfortable talking about mental health at work than in 2016, just 13% felt able to disclose a mental health issue to their line manager. Those who do open up put themselves at risk of serious repercussions. Of those employees who disclosed a mental health issue, 15% were subject to disciplinary procedures, demotion or dismissal (9% in 2016).

The financial costs of not managing mental health are significant. Poor mental health costs employers between £33 billion and £42 billion a year, equivalent to almost 2% of UK GDP (Centre for Mental Health 2016). Deloitte’s report (Mental Health and Wellbeing in Employment 2017) suggest that this cost is borne by businesses of all sizes and across all industries, with analysis showing the costs per employee ranging from £497 – £2564, depending on the industry and sector. Their research has also found that the return on investment of workplace mental health interventions is overwhelmingly positive, with an average ROI of 4:1. The Lancet has recently published findings from a study in the Australian Fire Service which found that a manager mental health training programme could lead to a significant reduction in work-related sickness absence, with an associated return on investment of £9.98 for each pound spent on such training.

The human cost is monumental. Impacts can range from lack of sleep or panic attacks; difficulty in concentrating; and low confidence. Mental ill health also means that individuals can find themselves less able to cope with elements of their personal lives such as relationship breakdown, problem finance and housing worries.

And of course families and friends are impacted too, with many people putting on a front at work, and then having poor mental health at home.

Some progress has been seen, and employers are becoming more aware of the need to offer more support at work. Many employers have moved beyond discussion about whether it makes business sense to support mental health, to consider the most effective way to reach all employees. Greater numbers of managers recognise that employee mental health and wellbeing forms part of their responsibilities (84% compared to 76% in 2016). However, many line managers lack training and support in mental health. The lack of training has implications; people are still more likely to turn to people they trust outside work when it comes to their mental health. Around three out of four employees with a mental health issue chose not to involve anyone at work. The main barriers are a reluctance to ‘make it formal’ (identified by 33%) and fears of negative consequences (29%).

Sheffield Mind and other like-minded organisations can help.  Sheffield Mind continue to work with an increasing number of employers, Nandos, SKY, Outo Kampu, Children’s Hospital, Arcelator Mittal, TT Electronics to name but a few. And offer a range of training and consultancy including Mental Health Awareness, Manging Stress, and Skills for Line Mangers Training. The latter being also delivered in partnership with Sheffield Chamber of Commerce. Our learning is as follows:

  • One of the key factors that has been identified as contributing to mentally healthy workplaces is the role of line managers. It is sometimes the case that managers are neither confident nor competent in managing mental health at work. But there is no mystery to this, and it needn’t be difficult. This is essentially about good management techniques, such as good communication skills (listening) relationship building and problem solving.
  • Businesses increasingly recognise the importance of getting this right, and see the value in investing in this agenda, although many more continue to struggle. Those that do invest either focus on staff, or Line Managers. A system wide approach is quite a rarity, as is attention to Risk Assessments. Yet all there domains need to be considered. The vast majority of businesses who have invested in this agenda clearly recognise and appreciate the benefits
  • Most businesses either don’t know or don’t understand the legal requirements to manage stress at work for example the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999: – To assess the risk of stress-related ill health arising from work activities, and a duty of care in the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974: – To take measures to control risk.
  • And there is a duty under the Equalities Act where mental illness is one of the protected characteristics. This makes it illegal to discriminate on grounds of mental illness and gives people the right to ask employers to make changes to jobs that are associated with a person’s disability. These changes are ‘reasonable adjustments’.

An interesting aspect of mental health that sets it apart from other sorts of health issues is the impact that going to work can achieve. The workplace can have a real therapeutic effect on getting people’s wellbeing to a place they feel comfortable and happy.

Business can play it’s part in making a difference by:

  1. Producing, implementing and communicating a mental health at work plan
  2. Developing mental health awareness among employees
  3. Encouraging open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling
  4. Providing your employees with good working conditions
  5. Promoting effective people management
  6. Routinely monitoring employee mental health and wellbeing.

Businesses are becoming increasingly keen to get this right. The levers and drivers go well beyond Corporate Social Responsibility. A happy workplace is a productive workplace. Given that we can spend up to 60% of our waking lives at work it is critical that we get this right.